INDIANAPOLIS—WORLD’s Midwest Regional runner-up in its annual Hope Award for Effective Compassion is the Shepherd Community Center here in Indiana’s capital—and, as an Indianapolis journalist, I wanted to tell you one story I encountered there. It’s about Curtis Adkins, who when growing up looked like a tragedy waiting to happen.
His father left the family. They moved every three to four months in the city. Adkins would switch schools and fall behind, so school officials put him in classes for learning disabilities.
By middle school Adkins thought of himself as a troublemaker, and so did school authorities. He was expelled from one school and sent to another one. He landed in juvenile court on minor charges. He tried drugs, abused alcohol, and got kicked out of his mother’s house.
As a homeless teen, Adkins stayed on friends’ couches. Often that profile adds up to a life of crime and prison—but this young man also bumped into people who wanted to help him. A family took him in for a year, on the condition that he join the Shepherd Community Center. There he heard about the small Indianapolis Christian School, where he benefited from small class sizes and tutoring.
Adkins worked at Shepherd and the school to pay tuition. He learned to work at small goals instead of big dreams. He’d earn just enough money for the next semester’s tuition. He would master a basic English or math skill he had missed in earlier years.
Yet it wasn’t always a smooth ride, for Adkins or the people assisting him. Shepherd director Jay Height came to see why Adkins had been booted out of school. “He was obnoxious,” Height recalled. “I kicked him out when he was first here.”
Another family recommended that he join them on a short mission trip to serve in Bolivia. “I thought I was poor, staying with people here and there,” Adkins said. “Then I went to a Third World country and saw kids without shoes and moms raising their kids in the street.”
He also saw a new side of Christian faith. Adkins had tried to improve himself to please God: “Before that trip I felt to accept Christ that I would have to change so much in my life. My life would have to be perfect.”
He discovered a different perspective in Bolivia. “I realized that Christ loved me in spite of my sins,” Adkins said. “It wasn’t about ourselves or what we were doing, but it was about what God was doing.”
Adkins does not recall a dramatic conversion. Rather, he had seen many believers show him the love of Christ. Their perseverance in that love was a big factor in his journey.
Some teachers had advised Adkins to forget about college and consider a trade school. He was scared to think about college. But friends at Shepherd thought he could make it, especially after he discovered his audio learning style and made more progress in school. He also fell in love with soccer and wound up playing at Ohio Valley University in West Virginia.
Small goals helped him not get discouraged. He kept his GPA above 2.0 to stay on the soccer team, eventually graduating cum laude.
Adkins is now 31, married, with two children and a stable job. These days he serves at Shepherd Community Center, attempting to steer other at-risk children and teens to the straight-and-narrow path. Jay Height sees Adkins as an important part of a team aiming to break multi-generational poverty on the East Side of urban Indianapolis. “He’s helping us shape our programs because he’s been there,” Height said. “He’s improving our diversity of voice to include those who are the first generation out of poverty.”
When tempted to give up, friends who had helped him encouraged Adkins to change course: “I started moving in the right direction because I didn’t want to let these people down.” Now he wants to do something similar for those in the same part of Indianapolis: “People invested in my life at Shepherd. I felt like it was part of my job to come back and invest in the lives of others.”
Adkins doesn’t see himself as a self-made man. He’s grateful to the Lord and friends who came alongside him in times of need.