By MADISON MILLER
Mrs. Alabama United States of America 2012 Ashley Bentley hasn’t been involved with pageants for her entire life. In fact, she only started a year ago.
“I was pregnant with my second child, and I wanted to make sure that I lived my life to give the best example. I wanted to do more and be more for them,” Bentley said.
Going into the pageant world for the first time, she wasn’t sure what to expect.
“I was happy to find out it wasn’t about a pretty face. It was a good bonding experience with other mothers who wanted to be a good role model,” Bentley said.
A native of Nashville and graduate of the University of Mississippi, Bentley moved to Birmingham after graduation to work at the Hershey Company. Twelve years later, she is the wife of Chris Bentley, owner of Bentley Flooring, and mother to two girls, Brooke, 5, and Brayden, 2.
After participating in three pageants and being crowned runner-up twice, Bentley was appointed to this pageant and ultimately crowned Mrs. Alabama USA on March 4. Winning the title, Bentley said, was unbelievable.
“I was really humbled being chosen from so many wonderful women,” Bentley said.
Bentley represents several charities and organizations in the Birmingham area. While she worked at the Hershey Company, she began working with Children’s Hospital.
“I had all these samples from the Hershey Company, more than I could just give away. Through a group at the Church of the Highlands, I donated the samples to Children’s,” Bentley said.
She kept volunteering with Children’s Hospital and now leads a group of 92 volunteers.
Bentley’s volunteer work as a cheerleading coach for inner city girls inspired her to start her own non-profit organization, S.M.I.L.E., Sports Ministry Inspiring Lives Everyday. S.M.I.L.E. provides food, water, clothing and encouragement to children in need.
“It’s all based in love and encouragement, believing in them so that they believe in themselves,” Bentley said.
Bentley also participates in Pug Rescue and Adoption, an organization dedicated to rescuing pug dogs and placing them in new homes. After the death of her own pug of 10 years, Bentley got involved as a way of coping.
“It was like losing a family member. I cried for three days, and then I decided to turn it into a positive thing by getting involved with the organization. Now I have four adopted pugs,” Bentley said.
Along with her charities, Bentley has participated in state events since being crowned. Most recently, she spoke at Relay for Life. The walk benefited two children who are currently battling cancer.
“The little girl, Maddie, told me her favorite color is turquoise. I got my sponsors at Joyce’s Formals to donate a turquoise dress for her to wear to the walk and she had her own tiara. She was decked to the nines. It was all about her being up there, not me,” Bentley said.
Overall, Bentley is excited to continue her year as Mrs. Alabama USA. She will continue to represent her charities and attend events. In some ways, she says, she is still recovering from the shock of winning the crown.
In July, she will represent Alabama in the national Mrs. United States of America pageant in Savannah.
“The hardest thing is believing that you can do it,” Bentley said.
After watching her mother, Bentley’s older daughter, Brooke, now wants to participate in pageants as well.
“I want her to do them because it’s something that she wants to do. I want her to take away the positive and be aware of the negative. It’s about growing her as a leader.”