Next Up Columbus 2024: Ashley Montana

Ashley Montana
Ashley Montana

Photo by Ashley Montana

Interview by Derek Grosso

Name: Ashley Montana
Pronouns: She/Her/Hers
Age: 30
Profession: Community Engagement Director
Neighborhood: Hilltop (Westgate)
Education: Bachelor of Science in City and Regional Planning
Community Involvement: Commissioner at the Greater Hilltop Area Commission (January 2024-Present), Co-Chair of the Franklinton Non-Profit Collaborative (January 2018-Present), Member of the the Community Advisory Council of the Mid-Ohio Farm on the Hilltop (February 2021-Present), Commissioner at the Fifth by Northwest Area Commission (August 2014 – July 2019), Co-Coordinator at the Central Ohio CROP Hunger Walk (June 2016-December 2022)

Quote: It used to be “Be the change,” but now I think it is “Trying to change the world while the world in changing us.” -Unknown
Connect: LinkedIn | Instagram

Give us a snapshot of your path
My first job was working as a Salon Coordinator at The Styling Nook, and I worked at the United States Geological Survey Water Science Center in college as an Administrative Assistant. While in college I was elected to the Fifth by Northwest Area Commission and later served as the Chair for 2 years. I completed my Bachelor of Science in City & Regional Planning at The Ohio State University in May 2016 and started at Franklinton Development Association in October 2016. My role has changed over my time at FDA and I have served as the Community Engagement Director since January 2022. I manage the Financial LifeSkills Program, run the social media accounts, update Franklinton.org and HilltopUSA.org, plan neighborhood events, and oversee the Empowerment Grants. Recently, I was appointed to serve at the Greater Hilltop Area Commission (GHAC) in January 2024 and my term expires in 2026. I serve on four committees: Planning & Economic Development, Human Services & Education, Government & Legislation, and Community Relations. I also started the Instagram account for GHAC and we now have over 100 followers.

What gets you up in the morning? And what gets you through the workweek?
My favorite part of my work is collaborating with other organizations on the westside of Columbus. I work at a small organization (4 total staff members) and I love the network of non-profits that I work with. Some organizations that I work closely with include Mount Carmel Healthy Living Center, Columbus Metropolitan Library, Gladden Community House, Franklinton Cycle Works, and The Hope Resource Center. Outside of work, I enjoy spending time with my husband, Chase, our 2 cats (Pika and Polka) and retired sled dog (Paisley). We all love to end the day with TV time and we are currently working our way through The Walking Dead.

What advice or mentors have helped guide you along the way?
The two people who come to mind are professors that I had at OSU for city planning classes: Dr. Rachel Kleit and Dr. Jason Reece. Dr. Kleit led my independent undergraduate research thesis that looked into how people emotionally respond to different environments based on where they grew up. I continue to work with her and see her in the affordable housing space with her involvement in Families Flourish. I took several classes with Dr. Reece and he was the person that taught me about community development work and how social justice plays a role in city planning. I am feel fortunate to work at a Community Development Corporation (CDC).

I worked at a hair salon, The Styling Nook, from high school to when I got my job at FDA, and it shaped me to be the person I am today. It was powerful to be a young woman working around and with women daily. I worked with 2 amazing stylists, Becky and Linda, that encourage me to this day.

What do you do or where do you go to unwind?
I enjoy taking group fitness classes at Axon Personal Training & Group Fitness in Franklinton. I have been a member for just over 2 years and I try to attend at least 3 classes a week to improve my strength training, make friends, and help my mental health. I also love walking my retired sled dog, Paisley, around my neighborhood each day.

What are a few of your favorite local spots in Columbus?
I love watching Marvel movies or having a drink at the Grandview Theatre and Drafthouse. I frequent Bottoms Up Coffee due to its proximity to my office – I love to order a chai latte or blackberry coldbrew. A favorite from my childhood is Tony’s Coneys and I feel lucky to live close by as a westsider. I love to shop vintage and second-hand at The Little Light Collective. Even though I am not vegan, Two Dollar Radio always has the BEST meals and drinks. Tommy’s Diner also has a special place to me because I used to go with my former coworkers from my first job.

When you were a kid, what did you say you wanted to be when you grew up?
My earliest memory was either a teacher or daredevil (probably more of a stunt-worker and influenced from the movie Daredevil). My parents were both teachers and I enjoyed playing teacher at home, and now I get to teach through our Financial LifeSkills Program at FDA.

What books or podcasts are you reading/listening to right now?
I enjoy listening to Up First by NPR as I get ready for the day to be plugged into the news. Ologies is my favorite podcast to listen to on roadtrips because you always learn something new – my favorite episode is Thanatology (the study of death and dying) with Cole Imperi.

What does it mean to you to be chosen for the Next Up Columbus award?
I am honored to be recognized for the Next Up Columbus award. I love what I do for work and all of the people it has allowed me to meet over the years. It is sometimes hard to recognize my work-life balance since I moved to the westside in 2020, but it is an honor to serve the community through my role at FDA and now as a Commissioner through GHAC. I try my best to treat people with kindness and respect when I meet them.

If someone were to ask you what the “pulse” of Columbus is, what would you tell them?
Connection is the “pulse” of Columbus to me. Even though we are the 14th largest city, it still feels small through connection.

The Next Up Columbus Awards highlight emerging leaders who are connectors and ambassadors in central Ohio and who are making a positive impact on the future of Columbus. The Columbus Young Professionals Club would like to offer special thanks to our 2024 co-presenters, Discover Financial, Columbus Chamber of Commerce and Edison Brewing Co. for their support of this year’s awards program. Meet the entire “Class of 2024” »


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