Help from the heart
By Pamela McLoughlin
NEW HAVEN — The Rev. Brenda Adkins has had many obstacles in life: a troubled childhood, years of drug addiction and the wrath of domestic violence, to name a few.
That’s why, when she received an honorary doctorate degree in divinity Sunday from Zion Faith Bible Institute, it was a proud moment for Adkins, her husband, John, her grown children and scores of disadvantaged folks she’s helped through years of social service.
In typical style, Adkins doesn’t dwell on the honor selfishly.
"It’s going to allow me to open a Bible school in New Haven, and that’s our ultimate goal," she said. "The award is because it’s God’s timing. It’s nothing I went looking for."
Adkins earned the right to put a "Doctor" in front of her name after she was presented with the degree Sunday at the New Haven Lawn Club, where a dinner was held in her honor.
The woman who chose Adkins for the honor, Josette Rey, dean of the Bible institute, which is associated with Canon College, said though it’s an honorary degree rather than one received through attending classes, the doctorate was earned in ways better than the traditional path.
"She takes care of people and serves the community with all her heart and helping the less fortunate is really important because sometimes they’re forgotten," Rey said. "Because of the work she’s been doing, she’s earned what she’s getting even more than people who do all the (classes)."
Rey said she chose Adkins because of the help and caring she’s given through decades to the less fortunate, whether drug-addicted, mentally ill, criminally inclined, physically sick, homeless, hungry or just in need of a caring heart and ear.
Rey said she visited New Haven and saw the great work Adkins has done, including pounding the pavement of the city’s most crime-ridden and oppressed neighborhoods to deliver on foot the message about HIV, AIDS and the importance of using condoms.
Adkins has reached mainstream success as founder and director of New Life Spiritual Enlightenment, a faith-based social service agency in a storefront at 29 Kimberly Ave. that serves people on parole, probation and those who are involved in Department of Children and Families programs.
She also is pastor of Everlasting Word Apostolic Outreach Ministries, a fast-growing congregation in the same storefront strip.
"She’s a great leader and well-qualified because of all her work, achievements and commitment to God," said the Rev. Joseline Rey-Sutton, senior pastor of Zion Faith International, associated with the college.
Adkins grew up in New Haven as the oldest of 10 children. Being the oldest wasn’t easy: She had to help a lot with siblings and was the last to get affection, attention, material items and just about anything else.
Adkins, who believes she got her strong-willed nature from her mother, left home at 15 and hit the streets because she had had enough of caring for her family.
She quit school and had a child at 16, but she never lost her will to finish, returned to high school and graduated at age 21 with honors. She was class president and senior speaker and then determined to be a juvenile criminal lawyer
She received a local college scholarship and attended for a while, but the burden at home where she had an abusive partner made it difficult.
Adkins, who credits God for everything, including cleaning her up some 20 years ago, said she thinks he did so at first so she could help her family. Her mom, a good woman plagued by problems, was rearing 11 grandchildren and when she recovered, Adkins was able help, raising one nephew, still at home, from infancy.
Then her help went far beyond family, she said. Once clean, hubby John Adkins got a good job in the construction field. He moved his family off welfare and his wife stayed home, cooking, cleaning and caring for children, including a child they had together.
Brenda Adkins began to notice many people living around them, especially women, were drug addicts. She also saw her addicted friends die at a young age.
She felt she had to act, so Adkins started a Bible study group for women, most of them drug-addicted. Eventually, she established a support group for women that met at Mary Wade home. She then realized neighborhood men needed help and worked to get them to church.
Her volunteer mission grew and she helped scores of folks with housing, jobs, food and clothing before there was a storefront office.
At one time, she delivered necessities from the trunk of her car to folks on the stree"Our life is a book of successes and failures," Brenda Adkins has said.
Today, she’s not disappointed in herself.
"To overcome all these obstacles, to see where I am now, it’s mind blowing to me," she said. "I help people because that’s my heart, but to look for recognition isn’t the reason."
Pamela McLoughlin can be reached at email@example.com.