Ashley Hancock has lived in Naples, Florida, for 13 years, but she said that growing up in Owensboro and Lewisport has had a lasting impact on her life and her career as a speech-language pathologist. It led her to open her business Play on Words Pediatric Therapy, and she was recognized as one of the most influential young business leaders in Southwest Florida in a “40 under 40” list.
“The recognition for 40 under 40 is something I’ve had on my vision board for 10 years, and I never knew it would become a reality,” Hancock said. “The award has shined a spotlight not only on Play on Words Therapy but also the importance of pediatric speech and occupational therapy.”
Hancock attended school in Owensboro Catholic Schools until graduating in 2003.
“Our community emphasized teamwork, family values and interpersonal connection despite varying backgrounds and beliefs, and I still use each of these daily,” she said.
After earning her master’s in speech pathology from Murray State University, Hancock was recruited to provide speech therapy to adults in Naples, where she met Scott, who would later become her husband.
Following her grandfather’s advice to “learn all you can and can all you learn,” is something Hancock took to heart.
“I interpreted this to mean: educate yourself, hone your skill, and then use what you have learned to make a difference,” she said. “I have been blessed to choose a career that I love and that allows me to impact many children and their families.”
When the pandemic begin and schools and therapy clinics were forced to close, many children were left without the services needed to thrive. Hancock, who had always dreamed of opening a private practice specializing in pediatrics, saw this as an opportunity to serve those who needed therapy. She opened Play on Words Pediatric Therapy and saw patients on a one-on-one basis.
Since opening during COVID, Play on Words Pediatric Therapy has grown to now a 10-woman team of occupational and speech therapists.
“We have developed and expanded into a comprehensive pediatric clinic, offering speech, occupational, feeding, and teletherapy services,” she said. “The teletherapy branch of the business allows us to not only service children within Naples but also throughout the entire state of Florida.”
But Hancock still would love to offer more services and is expanding her role as a clinical fellowship/student supervisor to inspire others and create awareness of specific pediatric needs.
“We have had an influx of parents that are concerned about their child’s development and it is my hope that we are able to remove the stigma associated with early intervention and provide a safe space for children’s needs to be met,” she said.
To help lessen the financial burden on families with significant therapy needs, Play on Words has held a book drive where over 541 books were given to Naples’ children’s hospitals; held a blood drive in honor of her sister, Kate Hayden, in unison with her family in Owensboro; sponsored and coached sports teams; assisted in Hurricane Ian cleanup and donations; and provided free speech and language screenings and teletherapy services to low-income areas.
But, Hancock has not forgotten her hometown roots.
“I am an avid UK basketball fan. I still say ‘y’all’. My favorite place on Earth is Keeneland and my favorite cocktail is an Old Fashioned,” she said. “You can take the girl out of Kentucky, but you can’t take Kentucky out of the girl.”