Ashlyn Mehlhaff, First Tee – South Central Wisconsin

IB’s Professional of the Week is the premier way to meet Dane County’s professionals. This week features Ashlyn Mehlhaff, executive director, First Tee - South Central Wisconsin.
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What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of your job and why?

The most challenging and rewarding aspects of my job come from the work we do to close our local achievement gap here in the Greater Madison area. The most challenging is that educating our youth appropriately needs to be a focus in order to generate future leaders for our community, and so many are falling through the cracks. Our local youth are in dire need of literacy assistance and being able to help them is one of the most rewarding aspects of my job. First Tee is so much more than golf and we use our resources to provide a learning center program focusing on academic remediation, social and emotional growth, and a youth golf experience. Seeing our kids at the beginning of our programming and observing their growth each week is so rewarding. You get to learn their aspirations, see their progress made, and confirm that they can be a game changer in our community!

Who do you look up to or admire in business and why?

I have been very fortunate to have been surrounded by many admirable business leaders in my life. One person I greatly admire is Rita Benson-LeBlanc, formerly of the New Orleans Saints, who led the organization during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Another business women who inspires me is Kendra Scott, who is originally from Kenosha. She saw a hole in the market and created a product herself while being a mom. She has focused her business on being philanthropic, and I know so many nonprofit organizations here in Madison have benefited from her business and its employees’ kindness.

What has been the high point of your career so far?

I have had a long career and personal interest in sports and philanthropic work. The high point of my career was the opportunity to travel the world representing the NFL and the New Orleans Saints and visiting some of the most amazing places, including participating in two tours to support the troops in Qatar, Kuwait, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Seeing the bravery and sacrifices that were made by so many supporting our country, while promoting the NFL, truly was an opportunity of a lifetime. A close second has to be being in Miami watching the Saints win the Super Bowl — sorry Packers fans!

Thinking back on your career, what advice would you give your 21-year-old self?

Looking back at my 21-year-old self, I think I played it very safe growing in my professional career. I would advise myself to take more risks, not be so conservative in the business sense, and put myself out there more. Trusting your instincts takes you a long way and I think I would have come into my own a lot quicker with that advice.

What would you say are the best things about living and working in Dane County?

I am originally from New Orleans and one of my favorite things about home is that we refer to it as a small-big city. I see the same thing here in Dane County. You have the sense of a city feel, but with it being intimate enough to get to know so many local businesses and organizations and network organically with each other. You can support and shop small businesses while developing lifelong connections and relationships with corporate entities. It truly is a family community.

Do you have any secret talents or abilities that people would be surprised to discover?

I studied dance for many years and used to teach at my local studio. I have also discovered a love for pickling thanks to a few of my neighbors. Last year was my first year trying and I successfully pickled over 70 jars! I am looking forward to this spring to pickling the usual cucumbers, okra, cauliflower, beans, carrots, and even trying out a few new vegetables.

What are your guilty pleasures?

I absolutely love eating breakfast for dinner. It was a treat growing up that I have continued with my family. I love it when my girls come home and say, “Mom, we want breakfast for dinner!” There is something about having a long day and coming home to make some great comfort food.

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