Meet Ashley Martin, The Iona Basketball Recruit With A 5,000-Mile Reach

Ashley Martin is an Iona signee and co-founder of the Survival of the Children Foundation, which helps kids in Ghana. Courtesy Survival of the Children Foundation

There aren't many high school basketball players who leave their office to go to practice. Then again, there aren't many high school basketball players who have helped start an international aid organization.

Meet Iona-bound Ashley Martin, a senior at the Marymount School of New York and the co-founder of the Survival of the Children Foundation, which she formed to aid underprivileged children in Ghana.

Martin's interest in helping Ghanaian children started three years ago when she went with her mom on a 10-day vacation to the western African nation to visit a family friend. Martin was struck by how many great people she met who couldn't financially support themselves.

"I had never experienced anything like that," said Martin, who was 15 at the time. "The level of poverty in Ghana was so foreign to me, and I felt like I needed to make a difference for people who were so hospitable to me and my family. It was the least I could do to help their children go to school."

Still, it's one thing to want to help those less fortunate. It's another thing to actually act, especially from thousands of miles away.

"Most kids don't come home and think about what else they can do," said Christa Miller, a board member at the foundation. "Most children, when they come home it's 'Oh good it's over, I don't have to do anything about it.' Ashley really tried to figure out how she could get resources back to them."

When Martin got back to New York, a classmate's father helped her with the legal requirements of starting a non-profit, and a family friend gave her office space in East Harlem. On some days, Martin would spend time after school in her office before heading off to basketball practice at Marymount, where she is a 5-foot-8 shooting guard who averages 15 points.

"It was really productive actually," said Martin, who signed with the Gaels earlier this month. "It was really helpful for times I may have had an idea for a fundraiser, I'd just call up the team and we'd all meet at the office and have a brainstorming session. It was really helpful to have a space that we could call our own."

The foundation had a fundraising concert featuring a Ghanaian artist who wrote a song for the event, and it also sells jewelry and T-shirts on its website. The money goes toward supporting orphans and other vulnerable children in Ghana by sponsoring their education and giving them food and clothing.

Ashley grew up around basketball -- her father, Chuck Martin, is an assistant men's basketball coach at Indiana University. But she said her travels in Ghana made her appreciate the game even more.

"Seeing kids who play basketball in Ghana who barely have sneakers to play in has made me want to work on my craft more often just to get better," Martin said. "Because if these kids who are playing practically barefoot are working on it and loving the game, why shouldn't I be doing the same thing?"

Iona women's basketball coach Billi Godsey said she was thrilled to find a player who embodies the program's hard-nosed, determined mindset.

"She is such a well-rounded young woman and her charity work speaks directly to the mission of our institution," Godsey said.

But Godsey expects Martin to contribute not just in the community, but also on the court. "She is a bigger guard that has such a strong understanding of the game and can score in a multitude of ways," Godsey said.

Bryan Williams, the director of Martin's AAU team, the Westchester Hoopers, calls Martin a female Scottie Pippen because she does so many things well.

"Ashley is a multipurpose player -- she can rebound, she can defend, she can pass, she can dribble, she can shoot," Williams said. "She has a great basketball IQ and she's a leader off the court, and that shows on the court."

Martin says she might study child psychology and business at the New Rochelle, New York, campus. Once she graduates and has more time to devote to the foundation, her goal is to build an orphanage in Ghana.

Miller said the leadership skills Martin developed in basketball came in handy when it was time to get her foundation off the ground.

"She's certainly a team player when she plays basketball -- she's very committed, she lives and breathes basketball -- and she does that when giving back," Miller said. "She discovered her own nonprofit, she does speaking engagements, and a lot of the skills that she's developed came from basketball -- the teamwork, the dedication, the passion, the focus, the commitment -- and I think that she'll always be that individual."