GIVING BACK: Ashley Janssen Takes Life Changing Trips to Honduras
By Chris Mitchell
Washington U. Sports Information Director
Washington University in St. Louis senior outfielder Ashley Janssen has a goal in life to give back – whether it’s as a doctor or just with a simple smile or hug.
Janssen, a Lincoln, Neb., native, recently took her fourth trip to Honduras in January.
“Honduras will break your heart one thousand times, but it's also the one place that has ever made me feel whole,” – @AshleyJanssen18 tweeted out before making her trip to Honduras over Christmas break.
Janssen’s first trips were though a program called “Heart to Honduras”, sponsored by Southwood Lutheran Church in Lincoln. Ashley and her sister Haley went in June of 2010, and then mom, Kathi, joined them in June of 2011.
The primary focus of these trips was to provide dental and medical aid. The group traveled to remote villages in Honduras in the back of truck beds to set up daylong clinics. Janssen worked as a medical and dental assistant depending on the day.
Janssen’s third trip came in July 2012 and was in memory of her aunt Linda. Her dad Don, older sister Rachel, and several of her aunt's best friends came along on the trip. The group built a home for a family in need in La Ceibita, Honduras, with a portion of her aunt’s memorial money.
It was after the third trip in July 2012 to Honduras that Janssen began sponsoring Maycol (pronounced Michael), a 12-year old boy who lives at Proniño, an orphanage for street boys. So Janssen packed her bags again this past January with her younger sister Haley, a freshman at Drake University, and the two embarked to Honduras on their own.
The Janssen sisters raised over $1,000 and used part of that money to take all 90 of the kids on one school bus to the beach and to the river for a day of fun in the sun. The rest of the time was spent getting to know the boys at the orphanage.
“Honduras is one of my biggest passions, and I love when I get the chance to tell people about it,” Janssen said. “The kids at Proniño are some of the most incredible and inspiring people I have ever met. They have gone through so much in their few years of life, and yet have such a joy for life. “
“Any time something goes wrong in my day, pictures and videos of these kids can immediately put a smile back on my face. These kids and Honduras are something that is going to be a part of my life for a long time. I honestly could not imagine my life without it.”
Janssen has built a close relationship with Maycol since she started sponsoring him seven months ago, and keeps in contact with him through letters and Facebook. On Jan. 22, Janssen sent out this tweet, “Making funny faces back and forth with Maycol over Facetime...it doesn't get much better than that! #misshim.”
Janssen speaks very little Spanish, but communicating is not a problem. “You don’t need verbal communication to connect with these kids. Its all about smiles and the connections,” Janssen said.
Janssen will start the 100th game of her career Saturday, Feb. 23, in the season-opener at Rhodes College. She is a career .385 hitter from the leadoff spot for the Bears, fourth best in school history. Janssen is an also a two-time Academic All-University Athletic Association (UAA) selection and picked up 2012 Capital One First-Team Academic All-District honors.
Janssen has had a ton of success on the field, and wants to lead her team back to the NCAA Tournament in 2013. The success on the field, though, does not compare to the happiness she can bring to someone’s life.
“I gain so much happiness from seeing these little kids – they have so little but there joy for life for is tremendous,” Janssen said. “It makes me realize how much a single smile or hug can do for someone. For me – silly faces, dancing and the random games we play are fun and rewarding.”
Janssen regains perspective on a lot of things when returning from Honduras.
“Going to Washington University is a high stress environment. I have set goals,” Janssen said. “It puts it in perspective that you don’t need all these things in life to be happy. You can live off simple things. It’s a constant reminder of that.”
Janssen, a neuroscience major with a public health minor, plans on making a trip back to Honduras in June before starting medical school in the fall at the University of Nebraska.
“This is one of my main goals for my life. Since my first trip to Honduras in 2010, I feel this is what I am called to do,” Janssen said. “I do not want to have an established medical practice in Honduras, but go consistently (once or twice a year) throughout my life to provide for these kids as best I can. I want to do more than just the hugs and smiles that I give now.”