GRID's "How I Got Here" Series: Ashley Christy

This is the next in a series of regular profiles introducing the GRID Alternatives Greater Los Angeles staff. In their own way, each member of our team brings a passion for renewable energy to the day-to-day work of Los Angeles' most socially-minded solar company. Here's how one of them got to that point: Ashley Christy, Greater Los Angeles Deputy Director.

Ashley Christy arrived on the GRID Alternatives Greater Los Angeles scene to be a linchpin of our day-to-day operations in the final quarter of last year. In a position directing teams that comprise almost two dozen GRID staffers, it's no exaggeration to say that her time sets the clock that GRID runs on. Los Angeles has gotten hundreds of families in need to receive access to no-cost solar in the time since she's arrived, and many of the most important decisions made in a given week here – Who will get solar? for one – come from Ashley's directions. What she brings to the workplace as a solar professional is an array of talents that she trained herself to implement in multiple management settings, plus clear and actionable expectations that are essential to Energy for All.

If history is any guide, then the Baldwin Hills-Ladera Heights area of L.A., where Ashley's journey started, is a veritable hotbed of talented people – from Tom Bradley to Lisa Leslie to Issa Rae. At the age when many peers hadn't decided on anything solid for their futures, Ashley's goal was already to become a doctor. She attended a medicine and science careers magnet school, where a lucky mix of calm and enthusiasm led her to deliver six expectant mothers' babies while working under a professional's watch. As a hands-on project, this might not have been quite the same as installing a photovoltaic system … but it demanded so much of Ashley's patience, poise, and technical care that it might as well have been the precursor. College-bound, she graduated from the twelfth grade early and bolted on the pathway towards an education in pediatric surgery.

It turned out that getting a sense of herself and weighing her values as an independent young adult took time, which meant that Ashley wasn't quick to finish her college path. But by the time she did get it done (having decided not to become a surgeon midway through, and having learned a lot about the value of hard work), Ashley was much more confident that she was on track to do her family, particularly her mother and grandparents, proud. Making the University of California Dean's List a few times before graduating with a History major at twenty-four years old, Ashley tapped her network for a job at a place with a bright future: a start-up environment selling solar installation in Santa Monica. She ended up handling project management, with her work initially focused on the early stages of a project's customer service needs, and eventually she took on more responsibility.

In the solar industry, it's more often than not the case that organized, efficient people can become managers. Without intending to, Ashley started thinking of the work as something she nurtured; "I imagine that if you gave birth to a child," she says, "you'd give it everything you could, so that it could be everything that it could be." Ashley's first managerial job didn't prove a good fit for her permanently, but it gave her the chance to bring leased or bought systems to plenty of customers in a business model that she could dedicate herself to learning. That made leaping into her next job at an even leaner solar start-up a perfect chance to grow her accomplishments. In less than a year as Business Operations Manager at a private installer in her late twenties, she was part of a staff that drove a 1000% increase in sales and quintupled its employees along the way!

What was still nascent for Ashley at this stage was a sense of purpose, something that would shape her priorities in solar. She was eager to bring people beneficial technology, eager to see the people she mentored and supervised succeed, but she increasingly felt like there was something about the private sector experience she was having that didn't fully satisfy. Eager for perspective, she thought about her career's trajectory on the beaches of Cabo San Lucas. Then what she describes as her "epiphany" arrived in a decisive moment. The for-profit solar work she was doing had value. But: "I said, 'I can't do this anymore.'"

"Over a week, I know this sounds crazy. But I prayed about it and said, 'I need a great job that I can grow with, but one that's aligned with my personal goals and professional values.'" She applied to GLA at a moment of expansion, and felt from the very first minute in the door that her qualifications were strong. Getting the benefit of a not-for-profit solar model out to a wide and diverse community isn't always going to be an easy job in the first six months, to say nothing of having complex logistical challenges that a close-knit workforce needs to solve. But Ashley's career is her proud success story: she can be a "smart, professional, black woman," in her own words, who happens to be in solar. And since her ambitions align with the spirit of positive impact that we consider a core value at GRID, Ashley's given her team chances to excel. For most of the staff, her leadership speaks volumes!

"Ever since I've been in solar I've wanted my grandparents to get solar," Ashley writes. "I've always had a soft spot for them. But I didn't want them to have large bills or all these payments; I wanted to simplify their lives." (The Christy family's grandfather, a veteran, qualified for Energy for All a few months ago, and he and his wife are about to save on their summer bills thanks to Ashley.) She appreciates human impacts that big and challenging systems like GRID make possible; she knows this is a needed resource. And most of all, Ashley is quick to praise the character of the GRID volunteers and employees that keep our system alive. She says that she's been to every state in the United States (a project appropriately scaled to her ambitions!) and she ought to know what a multicultural, perseverant team looks like.

That's GRID. A place where good jobs connect good people like Ashley to good work. "The same way I feel about my grandparents is the way we all feel about the work we do at GRID," she explains. "It takes that 'business' side away."