Port St. Lucie Magazine

The VOLUNTEER EXTRAORDINAIRE

BY ELLEN GILLETTE

Cris Adams
Cris Adams, has spent a good part of her life helping others in need. ANTHONY INSWASTY

Cris Adams’ home in Port St. Lucie is filled with color and beauty. Blue glassware in the yard, in the house. Paintings everywhere, even the front porch. Adams herself is like one of her collectible teapots – delicate yet imminently functional.

Born in Syracuse, New York, Adams had three brothers. Her father was in the insurance business.

“My mother,” Adams says, “was a homemaker but also a first generation women’s libber from the ’20s.”

Adams comes from a family of “inveterate readers. Our father kept a list of all the books he read in a notebook which we consulted even into adulthood. I think I still have it somewhere.”

Sent to an Episcopal boarding school for the last three years of high school, Adams says this was fairly common where she lived, if families could afford it.
“I loved it, mostly because it was single gender,” she says. “Whatever happened, it was girls who made it happen.”

About half of the 15 seniors in her graduating class have died, but Adams is still in close contact with several of those who remain. “My generation put less emphasis on what women wanted to do or become. The expectation was marriage and children, but it never occurred to me not to go to college.”

She began at Potsdam Teachers College.

“Freshmen were housed on-campus but after that you had to find your own housing, which was in short supply. I decided to go home instead.”
Adams’ mother told her to find a way to support herself.

After taking a summer course to learn shorthand and increase her typing skills, Adams landed a secretarial job at Syracuse University.

“Back then, if you worked in an academic setting you could take classes at no cost.”

Later, working a different summer job, she met her future husband.

“I couldn’t stand him,” Adams says with a chuckle. “Wayne went home and told his mother he’d met the woman he was going to marry.”

Their first date was a production of Oklahoma in the round.

“It was a good start,” she says.

The couple married two years later. Adams was just 20 but the fact that Wayne was six years older gave her parents comfort. He was also in the insurance business.

“My husband, my father, his father – they all knew each other.”

Eventually moving from Syracuse for Wayne’s work, Adams volunteered for the first time.

“I taught Sunday school,” she remembers. “We traded off babysitting. We were poor as church mice at times.”

When Wayne’s job took them to Detroit, there was a bit of culture shock.

“It was two years after the 1967 riots,” she says. “The area had more prejudice than I’d ever experienced. It took awhile for Detroit to feel like home.”

With two daughters by now, Adams took community college classes before finally deciding to return to school full time. Cobbling together credits from the other schools she had attended, she earned a degree in general studies with a concentration in women’s studies and a minor in management.

Shortly after, the family moved to Atlanta, where she discovered her passion for social work. She was hired as the part-time office administrator for a large, outreach-oriented Presbyterian church. She also attended St. Luke’s Episcopal Church that was, at the time, on the forefront of intentional outreach.

“Before direct deposit, homeless people couldn’t get government benefits without an address. The church established a post office for them. They also ran a health clinic and food pantry.”

It was a defining time for Adams. She volunteered at St. Luke’s as well as with the Atlanta Botanical Gardens and Herb Society. At work, she interviewed people coming for assistance.

“Some saw this as ministry but it wasn’t the theology that interested me, it was the people.”

Adams completed a year of postgraduate studies in social work. For her internship, she quit the church job to work at a call center connecting people in need with the right resources.

By then, Wayne had retired. As soon as Adams graduated, he asked when they were moving to Florida – he had inherited his mother’s house in Port St. Lucie.

During a two-week visit to finalize plans, Adams visited the United Way office in Fort Pierce to ask about area nonprofits. The executive director mentioned a job opening.

“The more she talked, the bigger my eyes got.”

Adams retired from United Way as vice president of community impact after 21 years. When asked about favorite memories, she says, “Every day. It was one of those jobs where something interesting happened every single day.”

Since 1996, Adams has volunteered with Heathcote Botanical Gardens and is a past board president. She’s on the executive committee of Impact 100, a group of women who pledge $1,000 annually, enabling one transformational grant benefiting a nonprofit. For eight years, she served as a founding board member of HANDS of St. Lucie County, a free medical clinic.

On the board of trustees, Adams sews aprons for Heathcote’s gift shop and helps organize events. Although retired from Port St. Lucie Businesswomen, she was asked to help plan an upcoming installation and holiday party. She attends a monthly writers’ group via Zoom.

Wayne passed away in 1998.

“He had three years of enjoying the pool and sitting on the porch. He loved it.”
Like him, Adams is enjoying life after retirement.

“I’m fortunate to be in fairly good health. I keep up with friends, read, sew and make the rounds of the plethora of thrift stores in the area.”

Always mindful of Heathcote’s fundraising event needs, she looks for linens and other accessories to enhance the experience. You might say that she finds volunteering in her 80s to be just … her cup of tea.

CHRISTINA WILSON ADAMS

Age: 86
Lives in: River Park
Occupation: Retired social worker
Family: Two daughters, five grandchildren, three great-grandchildren
Education: Attended several colleges before graduating from Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan; master of social work from University of Georgia
Hobby: Sewing, reading, gardening, volunteering
Who inspires me: “My mother and my Aunt Mary Wilson, who lived with us. She was an avowed pacifist and liberated woman who held a job when it was fairly unusual at that time. Twenty years older than my mother, she was more like a grandmother to me.”
Something most people don’t know about me: “When I was a freshman at Potsdam Teachers College, I sang with [famed conductor] Robert Shaw. Each spring there was a large oratorio with a guest conductor and perhaps 100 singers. We performed Bach’s St. Matthew Passion at the hockey arena.”

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