Ashleigh Ellis loved ice skating from the first moment she laced up her blades, but she also felt like an outsider.

“I looked around one day and I realized nobody looks like me, at all,” Ellis said. “So I’ve always wanted to change that and provide free access to skating.”

Ellis has turned her passion into Unity Ice Academy, which is hosting its first summer camp this month at Lakewood Ice. The program is free for the 55 campers between the ages of 5-12 so they don’t have to worry about ice time rental, coaching, sweatshirts, hats, gloves and other gear. All of the campers are from the Long Beach, Lakewood and Compton areas.

“We really want to provide this for families who really need it,” Ellis said. “All of the kids are from families who have working parents. This is a great resource for them for child care and learning a great skill.”

The campers started the program earlier this month by clutching the sidewall and getting their feet underneath them. Ellis said their improvement has been surprisingly fast thanks to experienced coach volunteers and more than an hour of time on the ice every day.

Ellis, 31, is also an accomplished figure skater who reached the Junior Olympics.

Ashleigh Ellis. Courtesy photo.

Campers are working hard in preparation for a recital on Saturday, July 30, at Lakewood Ice from 12:30-2:30 p.m.

“It will be their chance to show their parents, family, friends and donors everything they’ve learned,” Ellis said.

Campers also get off-ice activities like dance class or arts and crafts that incorporate a word of the day such as confidence, preparation, resilience, passion, leadership, communication, pressure, dignity and commitment.

“Everyday we highlight those words, what they mean, what it means in skating and how it relates to what they’re doing in the real world as well,” Ellis said.

Anyone interested in joining or donating to Unity Ice Academy can get more information at