WHEN Ashley Broaddus, 14, of Germantown was released from the hospital last Christmas Eve after suffering a stroke that left her paralyzed from the chest down, she refused to use a wheelchair.
"She says, 'I'm not going to do it,' " said Yvonne Farrell, Ashley's mother. "So we went to therapy twice a week at CHOP . . . and we're just believing that she'll totally recover."
Now that wheelchair sits in her house covered in clothing.
While in the hospital, Ashley was nominated for a wish to be granted through the Make-A-Wish foundation. And instead of opting to take a trip to Disney World or to meet her favorite pop star, she decided she wanted to help a cause about which she was passionate.
At Macy's at 13th and Market streets yesterday - Macy's Believe Day - Ashley presented her line of "inspiration hoodies" meant to boost girls' self-esteem, designed with Gabrielle Mandel, a designer at the store's fashion incubator.
For a month, the two worked on designing the clothing embellished with uplifting phrases she came up with - like "Destroy what destroys you" or "People stare at me like I'm a walking Goddess" - which eventually became known as the Light Project.
"All these quotes also come from my story," Ashley said. "When I became ill, I thought myself as not that pretty because of my appearance, so all these quotes are to [teach] girls that appearance doesn't matter because beauty is within also, so if you're beautiful on the inside, you're beautiful on the outside."
The hoodies, printed by Top Banana, will be sold online in the Light Project's Etsy store, although a date and prices are tentative. Farrell said proceeds will go to the Asia Adams Save OUR Children Foundation, a nonprofit for which Ashley previously worked that seeks social justice for women.
Dozens of customers waited outside Macy's yesterday anticipating Ashley's arrival for her presentation. Her friends held up signs and began to cheer as they saw her white stretch limo around the corner. She posed for photos like a celebrity, and smiled widely as onlookers applauded while she walked down a red carpet - with Christmas decorations adorned around her - to the back of the store where she showed off the collection.
"It's a feeling I can never describe and it's making me a little emotional that I came this far, so I'm really happy that all the people are here to support me with this," Ashley said.
Dennis Heron, president and CEO of Make-A-Wish Philadelphia, Northern Delaware and Susquehanna Valley, said the nonprofit is expected to grant about 315 wishes in the region next year. He said Ashley's wish was different from ones that he's commonly seen.
"This is amazingly unique because it's selfless," he said. "It's giving back to instill confidence in young women who might have a self-esteem concern, and Ashley has realized that there is a vacuum, a void there, and Ashley is trying to reach out to kids and say, 'You can be what you want to be. You can be strong.' "
Ashley has a congenital anomaly that could cause her to have a stroke at any moment.
Her mom said she feels grateful to be able to watch her daughter express herself through this project after going through a rough year medically. Prior to the incident, she said, Ashley ran track and excelled in dance - something she looks forward to watching her daughter do again one day.
"She never gave up. She always believed that she would walk and she really, really fought to do so, so this is just, I believe, the next step in her recovery," Farrell said. "And I want to hear that noise upstairs again in her bedroom - her dancing."