Courtney Ridgeway 40-40

Courtney Ridgeway 40 Under 40

Age: 32

Hometown: Naples, FL

Courtney Ridgeway works one-on-one mentoring women through the Dress For Success program. She also volunteers at Passages as part of the Dress for Success program in addition to being a CASA advocate and does work pro-bono as an attorney for those who could not otherwise afford a lawyer.

What made you decide to move to Billings?

Love. I firmly believe in capturing all that life has to offer and embracing the adventure it shares. I met my husband, Jeff Ridgeway, in San Diego where I went to law school and lived afterwards; we were engaged four months later. He was raised in Billings and his family lives in Billings. Admittedly, I could recognize Montana on a map because we were taught in school that the west side of the state was shaped like Joe Montana’s face but I also knew of its vast Big Sky and craved such wide open spaces. Although I was apprehensive about leaving my support system, career, and 70-and-sunny weather, I was anxious to build a stronger sense of community and start a new chapter, so north we went!

Tell us about the Legal Samaritan program.

I felt there was a huge imbalance in my life – the sense of fulfillment I received from my 9-to-5 work as an attorney outweighed the time I spent serving others and using the gifts I’ve been given. I founded Legal Samaritans to flip that script and break down the barriers that lie between those in need and their ability to reach the justice system. I understood why so many individuals and families couldn’t afford to pay the hourly rate most attorneys charge, nor were they able to receive the help they requested from other legal aid programs. I was driven to reach and assist people on a holistic level to provide legal assistance and long-term solutions for their life, not just their current legal issue. I am an entrepreneur at heart and a Christian, so those two things led me and Legal Samaritans was born as one of the buckets within the expansive service that Community Leadership Development, Inc. (CLDI) offers to communities in need.

Why have you chosen to give time to the Dress for Success program?

I continued to hear about Dress for Success through other volunteer organizations and the vast impact it was making on so many women in the Billings community. I am all for empowering women who are working hard to better their life for themselves, their family and their career and Dress for Success fits that bill through and through. When I learned how expansive their assistance was – from providing professional clothing to women who are seeking employment, to their career services (resume building, interview skills) and mentorship program, I knew this would be time well served.

You dedicate so much of your time to volunteering, what caused you to do that?

I’ve always had a deep understanding and respect that this life is not just our own and feel that we each are given strengths. I think it’s easy to get wrapped up in our day-to-day lives and not intuitively look around for ways we can connect with others, and share what we have with them. So many people serve so many in a variety of ways, I just feel led to simply use my strengths to do the same. Whether it's time, talent, or resources we all have something to give to others.

Who do you credit as a mentor who had a large impact on your life?

God has put so many people and experiences in my life and I am grateful for how each one has helped shaped me into the person I am. I think His greatest gift to me was my father. My father was always my rock, my protector, my inspiration and my strength. I didn’t fully realize until he unexpectedly passed just a few months ago how many of his lessons, how much of his wisdom, and how often his guiding voice rings through my head and my heart. He taught me to uphold my character first and foremost. He strongly emphasized that no matter who you’re talking to or where they have come from you never know someone’s story, and it is never yours to judge. He found beauty and humor in all things and encouraged laughter at all times. He was an attorney, a judge, a fisherman, an outdoorsman, a lover of classic rock and the wisest person I knew. To call him my mentor would be a gross understatement and I am eternally grateful I was able to call him my father.

What inspires you?

I am inspired by others and our ability to effect change in ourselves and the community around us. Life can be exactly what you want to make it, and it’s your own to embrace as much of it as you want. There are so many people out there with enormous hearts and genius minds doing good and I am continuously inspired to try and keep up.

Where would you like to see Billings in 10 years?

I believe Billings and its people are truly good and desire to be even better. I think it’s one of the few places left in America where kids can still ride their bikes outside and neighbors still wave at each other. I hope more places like Poly Food Basket, Harper and Madison, our beautiful library, coffee shops, Smiling Dog records, Yellowstone Cellars, the Local and so many others continue to thrive or sprout up reminding us that family-owned businesses are the heart of strong communities and help nurture relationships. Sense of community and connectivity is essential, and I think so many people in Billings strive for more of that.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

I would have to say I am most proud of those I surround myself with and the clients I get to serve. Billings is filled with good people with good hearts and I am grateful to glean from their passion and wisdom. I am proud to be an attorney and that I have the ability to use my profession to effect positive change within someone’s life and within a community.

Why would you recommend Billings as a place to live to others?

Billings is small enough to feel rooted in community and see friendly faces at Albertsons, but big enough to offer lots to do. Bonus – it has the most breweries and best restaurants in the state!

What is your guilty pleasure?

I truly love to watch Chip and Joanna Gaines take care of business on some fixer-upper properties. It is inspiring to see vision come to life and turn something no so attractive to others into something beautiful. I also really enjoy a night at home with the hubs, a glass of red wine, eating mac and cheese, listening to some vinyl and hanging by the fire.