Aja Ellington was born into poverty in East St. Louis. Her childhood, marked by homelessness and trauma, made a college education seem almost unattainable, but Ellington beat the odds. She graduated high school and earned her associate’s degree in human services at Ivy Tech Community College.
While at Ivy Tech, Ellington developed an interest in supporting those who faced mental health challenges related to poverty and trauma, so she enrolled at the IU School of Social Work at South Bend with plans to become a therapist.
I understood early on the power of giving back and uplifting others once I became able to do so,” Ellington said.
Now an MSW student at the IU School of Social Work, Ellington is the founder and CEO of Free Your Wings Youth Mentoring, Inc. This non-profit empowers youth through mentoring, education, and community engagement. The organization recently handed out over 200 COVID-19 awareness packets and masks to underserved families in South Bend.
Ellington advocates for homeless youth as a committee member on the National Youth Advisory Council (NYAC) and is a partner to the National Network for Youth (NN4Y). She is a contributing author to Love Letters to My Girls, a book and movement to inspire, uplift, motivate and empower black women and girls worldwide. She also is an advisory board member for Futures Without Violence, a new research initiative designed to understand better how economic abuse impacts teens’ education, employment, and finances.
Ellington would like to use her social work degree to provide awareness and implement programs demonstrating the importance of collaboration between the criminal justice system and the social work system.
Ellington said she’s grateful for the experiences that made her who she is today, and she hopes her story will inspire others to persevere in the pursuit of their goals.
I have learned that the cards I have been dealt in life were not only for me but to assist me in guiding others to be the best version of themselves,” Ellington said.