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Our Neighbor: Most Valuable Cougar Candidate Ashlyn Kirtner

By WILLIAM PAINE

william.paine@southwesttimes.com

Pulaski County High School senior Ashlyn Kirtner is one of five nominees for this year’s Most Valuable Cougar (MVC) award. The senior class votes to select the MVC nominees at the beginning of the school year and at the end of the second semester, the faculty will choose from one of these students to be the Most Valuable Cougar, which is the most prestigious award a student can earn at PCHS.

“It was definitely an honor,” said Ashlyn of her nomination. “To have your classmates view you that way is really special.”

Ashlyn Kirtner is a slender young lady whose long brown locks frame a face that easily forms into a smile. Her mother, Andi, has that same smile and both are familiar to me because Ashlyn and her family attend the Valley Harvest Ministry church, as does my family.

Ashlyn and my two children have grown up together and so I speak with some familiarity about her but really, everyone in church is familiar with her because she sings with the Praise and Worship Team there most every Sunday.

“I started doing praise and worship in the eighth grade, leading on Sunday’s with Latricia,” she said.

On Wednesday nights, she sings with Praise and Worship for Corporate Prayer night.

“My mom put me in music classes when I was really, really young,” she said. “Ever since then I’ve just been in love with it. I’ve always been involved with music and everything and started piano lessons very young as well.”

Performing in front of the church at such a young age has served her well because, after all, the show must go on.

“There’s definitely some situations where I don’t even know the song and I have to lead it,” she recounts. “That makes me nervous but I know it’s fine because I feel really comfortable with our church. I don’t feel like any of them would really judge me that much. They’ve known me like my whole life so, yeah, I’m not too nervous in front of them.”

It was through Valley Harvest that Ashlyn entered talent competitions sponsored by the International Pentecostal Holiness Church. Placing first at the conference level competitions qualified Ashlyn for the national talent competition in Florida. There, she placed first on three separate occasions. Two of those years Ashlyn won the national competition for her piano solos. On another trip, Ashlyn won for a combined vocal/instrumental performance, where she sang “Clean” by Natalie Grant.

Music has always been a huge factor in Ashlyn’s life, as is her faith.

“I was raised in the church,” said Ashlyn. “My parents were really involved in the church and it wasn’t really an option to ever skip church, you were just expected to get up and go. When I was in ninth grade is when I kind of decided to like start my own journey with my faith and it’s led me to do a lot of cool things like leading worship, camp counseling, leading Bible studies with FCA and leading at events such as Fields of Faith, and it’s really been nice.”

As one might expect, Ashlyn is involved in many school activities. A sixth grade health class inspired her hold a piano recital to raise funds to fight cancer. She has been holding annual benefit recitals ever since, raising over $5,000 for the cause.

“It was just a topic that kind of just touched my heart,” said Ashlyn. “I was always just really sympathetic towards those children, so I always wanted to do something for them.”

In her junior year, Ashlyn co-founded the Kids vs. Cancer club, along with fellow student Rachael Bird.

She has also found time to volunteer to clean the “cat condos” for the Humane Society.

“I’m definitely an animal lover,” she said.

In her sophomore year of high school, Ashlyn became a member of the National Honor Society. She has also served as the student body Treasurer ever since her freshman year.

“I got to be on student body every year, which is really nice and getting to make decisions for your class has always really been cool.

Of course, this year has been different any other.

“It’s definitely been hard because ever since like your freshman year, you kind of like dream of being a senior and getting all like the pep rallies and other senior activities,” said Ashlyn. “It’s definitely really frustrating but after a while you kind of learn to accept it and enjoy all the little senior things that they do for us. They made a really great effort despite all the COVID restrictions. But yeah, the first semester was definitely hard because we were only going two days a week and only one half of the alphabet would go Monday and Tuesday and a lot of my friends went Thursday and Friday, which was kind of disappointing. But ever since we’ve been going 100% It’s been a lot better, and we’re able to talk to each other and socialize.”

Ashlyn, who is the daughter of Andi and Tim Kirtner, grew up in Pulaski County along with her older brother Caleb and younger sister Elise.

She has had an athletic upbringing.

“I did gymnastics from five years old till I was 12,” she recounted. “I did competitive for six to seven years and then after that I moved to cheer for two years and then after that I went to dance for like one.”

Ashlyn joined the PCHS indoor/outdoor track where she lettered in her sophomore year. A hip injury kept her out of high school athletics in her final year of school and she is currently in physical therapy to help her heal. She will undoubtedly be back to normal in the very near future.

Another one of Ashlyn’s interest is fashion.

“I think my grandmother had a lot to do with it,” said Ashlyn. “She was always keeping me up on fashion trends.”

A local clothing store called the Branded Blond, where Ashlyn sometimes shopped, put out a modeling call last year, wherein girls from all over the country submitted their photos. Ashlyn wound up being one of the top picks and has since been heavily involved in modeling for the store as a brand “rep.”

“She would give me an article of clothing for free and I’d get to model it or post a picture in it and that was like her paying me,” Ashlyn explained. “I like getting paid with clothes, so I was fine with that. Within the past two years, I’ve developed my own style.”

Kirtner has, of late, been seen wearing several different varieties of bell bottom slacks, along with some funky-fresh western themed wear. It was her sense of style that prompted her to take her clothing interests a step further.

“I’ve taken up sewing. I can make limited things right now but I’m hoping to advance my skill a little bit more in the future,” she said. “I was planning on making my prom dress because my grandma is like super into all that stuff but we weren’t sure if we were getting one, so we didn’t have enough time.”

Ashlyn will be attending Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee, in the fall, where she will study music.

“I just like fell in love with everything there … the campus, the people and just, I loved all of it,” she said. “It’s like the perfect distance because you’re not dependent on your family but you’re close enough that you can go back and see them if you need to. So yeah, I’m super excited about going there.”

Piano is definitely the musical instrument she favors most.

“You’re just not limited to anything on piano,” said Ashlyn. “There’s a lot you can do on it, like a lot of variety and different styles of music.”

Her primary field of study will be piano and her secondary will be voice but she may have time to experiment with other instruments, as well. She already plays guitar.

“I’m excited to further my knowledge of music in college and just grow my skills in those areas, too,” she said. “I plan on going to graduate school to study music therapy. That’s the plan right now, I can always change but yeah, I’m really interested in music therapy.”

But what is music therapy?

“You use music to help people cope with things,” Ashlyn explained. “It could be children in a hospital, you can have music therapy sessions with them and sing with them or maybe play your instrument for them or even give them instruments to play. You can do this in nursing homes and like a lot of different facilities, too.”

So for now, Ashlyn Kirtner likes the idea of being a professional music therapist … but she still has a yen for fashion.

“Hopefully, one day I might be able to have my own shop,” Ashley confided.

Your own shop?

“I want to so badly,” she said with a smile. “Maybe just a small shop. Maybe making shirts or something. I really really want to do that.”

A musical therapist who owns her own fashion boutique?

“Yes, that would be really cool,” said Ashlyn. “I don’t know if it’ll work out but that would be my dream honestly.”

Healing people with music while she tends to her high fashion tastes … sounds intriguing and if anyone could pull it off, it’s Ashlyn Kirtner.

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