FORT LAUDERDALE — Linsey Brewster-Jenkins grew up shuffling from one home to the next, without a sense of belonging and identity that comes from one’s family.
But there was one place that remained constant throughout her life as an orphan: HANDY, Inc., a non-profit organization that provides support services to Broward County’s children in foster care or those placed in the care of relatives under protective supervision.
Now married with a family of her own, the 25-year-old mother of six, four of whom she adopted, is an active supporter for children facing the same predicament she struggled through a few years ago and has committed herself to helping them.
“Being that she has gone through our program, she knows the quality of it, so there’s no side-stepping or deviation from the route,” said Kirk Brown, director of programs at HANDY. “She knows what can make it successful because she is one of those successes.”
For her exemplary work as an Intake and Outreach Specialist at HANDY, Brewster-Jenkins, a Fort Lauderdale native, was recently honored at the 13th Annual Angels in Adoption ceremony by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, a non-profit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to raising awareness about the millions of children in need of permanent, safe and loving homes and to eliminate the barriers that hinder these children from realizing their basic right of having a family.
It was during a trip HANDY takes every year to Washington D.C. with several children who get to meet politicians and take a first-hand look at the country’s law-making process, Brewster-Jenkins said, that Congressman Alcee Hastings announced that he had nominated her for the 2011 award.
“I was very proud to nominate Linsey Brewster-Jenkins for the 2011 Angels in Adoption Award and am thrilled to see her recognized with this honor,” Rep. Hastings said in a prepared statement. “Linsey is a courageous young woman who gives selflessly to children and youth of South Florida.”
On Oct. 4, Brewster-Jenkins traveled to the nation’s capital for the three-day event where she joined 140 other nominees from across the country who were selected by members of Congress as Angels in Adoption for their work on behalf of children in need of families.
“I guess I was kind of shocked,” Brewster-Jenkins said in an interview. “I’m a really humble person. I don’t make a big deal of things, but I was surprised.”
Losing both parents at an early age left Brewster-Jenkins in the care of her elderly grandparents who gave the then-15-year-old an option to either go with them or stay with someone else upon their decision to move back to Oklahoma to take care of another family member.
“I chose to stay,” Brewster-Jenkins said without regret. “They thought they had a placement set for me when they left but, that broke down and basically, I was on my own. I moved from one family member, friends, different places, from pillar to post, until I found HANDY.”
There, social workers became her “family” in every true sense of the word, assisting her with everything she needed for self-sustainability including an apartment when she was 17 years old, Brewster-Jenkins said.
Brewster-Jenkins also received college scholarships from HANDY that enabled her to pursue a B.S. in Social Work from Florida Atlantic University. She is currently pursuing an M.S. in Social Work at Barry University while serving as an intern school social worker with the Broward County School Board.
Whenever a family or child gets referred to the organization from such places as ChildNet or the Department of Juvenile Justice, Brewster-Jenkins makes the initial contact.
“I love what I do,” said Jenkins. “I love giving back to the community. I can relate to the kids that I work with and I love changing lives.”
HANDY provides essential support to children from newborn to 23 years old in the dependency system who have been removed from their homes due to domestic violence, substance abuse, physical and/or sexual abuse, and abandonment. Older youths who are aging out of the foster/relative care system also receive assistance at HANDY.
In addition to a safe, nurturing environment, the organization’s award-winning programs close the gaps left unfilled by other service agencies, including safety and well-being concerns, education, social and recreational activities, life-skills training, academic tutoring, mentoring, and emergency food, rent and clothing assistance.
For some of these children, HANDY is the only bright star, offering the most stable environment and serving as their advocate. Many, like Brewster-Jenkins, form a lasting bond with the staff and each other, maintain healthy relationships, and transform into society as vibrant, productive adults.
“She made the transition very well,” Brown said of Brewster-Jenkins. “She is one of those people who keep us extremely grounded on the fact that we serve children and we work for the benefit of those children every day.”
Tracy-Ann Taylor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org