By Clayton Levins
When she was a little girl, Ashley Cupaiuolo, 26, knew that one day she would grow up to help others and reach out into the community.
For her efforts to give others a lift up, which even landed her on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, the 2008 Jacksonville University graduate has been named the 2012 Scott Amos Recent Alumni of Distinction.
“The award means a lot to me because it’s not just about money,” said Cupaiuolo, who now lives in Riverside and once even had trouble putting food on the table for herself. “It’s about doing what’s right and helping others.”
The award is given to alumni who have graduated from JU in the last decade and is based on professional accomplishments, community involvement/philanthropic efforts and engagement and support of JU. It will be presented at this year’s President’s Reception Friday, Sept. 28, as part of JU Homecoming Weekend events. She will also be honored at halftime of the Dolphins’ football game against Marist College at D.B. Milne Field the next day.
Cupaiuolo graduated with a double major in psychology and sociology.
“Ashley was an excellent student and is a very passionate person,” said Jacksonville University Associate Professor of Humanities Dr. Joana Owens. “She’s bright, she’s outgoing, she’s the total package.”
After graduating, Cupaiuolo stayed with the JU family and worked through AmeriCorps to start the Campus Kitchen Project, devoted to feeding those in need. It fed more than 400 children and 200 adults of the Caroline Arms subsidized housing complex near JU.
“This really opened students’ eyes to what is going on around them and helped many families that couldn’t even feed themselves,” Cupaiuolo said.
Cupaiuolo stayed with AmeriCorps for three years before moving on to work as a high school and adult education teacher in San Diego and Chicago. While working for AmeriCorps, she lived at the poverty line and sometimes could not even put food on the table for herself.
“I always had people helping me during those difficult times,” she said. “Everything comes with stressors, but if you feel it’s where you are supposed to be, then nothing can stop you. It was all worth it; I would definitely go back and do it again if I could.”
Cupaiuolo not only has had an impact on her communities, she’s also had an impact on her family. After Ashley’s sister, a single mom of two, survived a horrific car crash in which her truck rolled five times, Ashley decided to give her own car to her.
“We’re big on family; we’ve always been there for each other,” she said. “I knew this was important because she worked a lot to provide for my two nephews. I saw it as an opportunity because I knew she needed it more than I did.”
Cupaiuolo was invited to attend The Ellen DeGeneres Show in May 2011 after her parents and sister wrote in about her various deeds. On the show, Ellen presented her with a new Chevy Cruze.
“They completely misled me until Ellen called my name to come forward,” said Cupaiuolo, who admits she got “pretty excited” being interviewed by Ellen and getting the car. “The experience was incredible.”
For the future, Cupaiuolo is planning to find work that again involves helping in the community. She has faith everything will work out and knows she will be happy as long as she is “working with people.”
JU is also honoring Ronald A. Autrey as its Distinguished Alumni for 2012. Autrey helped grow Miller Electric Co. from a 650-employee business with $80 million in revenue to a 1,650-employee, $311 million business within five years of taking over as president in 2003. He will also be recognized at the President’s Reception Sept. 28, and at halftime the next day.