Ministering to the Broken Hearted

Story by Jeannie Stone

A year and a half ago, during his early morning quiet time Bob Adkison cut his walk short because he felt fatigued. After showering, he felt heaviness in his chest and realized something was wrong. Adkison, soon to turn 78 and the executive director of ARVAC, Inc., was suffering a heart attack. 

A day after undergoing quadruple bypass surgery, the unflappable public servant attended a board meeting.

Adkison began his career with the Arkansas River Valley Area Council, Inc. (ARVAC) when he was hired as a program development specialist in 1965. He was charged with developing the housing and home management programs.

“I was hired during President Johnson’s term,” he said. “I was part of the Great Society movement.”

Adkison observed, “There’s a parallel with what’s going on today with the recession to the public works of FDR’s New Deal and the tail end of the depression.”

The young Adkison was greatly influenced by growing up in Atkins during the Great Depression. He carries memories of living in a two-story boarding house with his parents, a single uncle and his grandparents.

“There were other people living in the house as well,” he said.

“My dad was a preacher and traveled all around, pastoring churches in Delaware, Ola and Plainview — just all over. He and my grandfather worked for the WPA (Works Progress Administration). They built the road to Crow Mountain on the Atkins side.

“Those were hard times,” he said. “My recollection of that period was that the vast number of people living in Atkins during 1937 to 1940 would have all been classified as ‘needy.’ I could count on one hand the people who could afford a car. I remember people all around me telling of being laid off. I’ve lived to see history repeat itself.”

The WPA, as well as the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) were programs introduced during the Depression by President Roosevelt.

“I know there were a lot of critics of the New Deal, but there are a lot of buildings and roads we use today that were built by those programs — like Caraway Hall at Tech, the forestry building in Russellville, the fire station on Skyline and even several buildings on the U of A campus.”

Adkison has hobnobbed with officials during his productive career. As former president of the Arkansas Community Action Association, he had the honor of introducing two governors to the assembly during that period. They included former governors Frank White and Bill Clinton.

“I even breakfasted with Clinton during his ‘off term’ when he wasn’t being governor,” he said with a laugh.

The self-effacing businessman with a social worker’s heart shakes his head.

“These high-level officials knew I wasn’t intending on running against them. They’ve all helped us; even back to Dale Bumpers we had delegates to D.C.,” he said.

ARVAC is a non-profit community action promote economic and social development in a nine-county area in the Arkansas River Valley. The agency’s main office is in Dardanelle, and it has ten satellite offices located throughout the area.

Besides providing housing assistance and supplying area church food pantries, the organization provides support to clients through educational workshops, counseling to low-income persons and operates a recovery center for drug dependent men and women.

Currently, Adkison and an exploratory team including the mayor of Dardanelle and a Yell County judge are waiting to see what president-elect Obama will do.

“If he’s going to bail out Wall Street, maybe he will bail out the food banks,” he said.

ARVAC is in need of a larger food warehouse, as well as equipment such as a larger cooler to handle clients’ increased needs.

“We need a 20,000 square foot warehouse,” Adkison said, “and we’re waiting for word from Washington to see how much the States will get allocated.”

ARVAC currently uses a 5,000 square foot warehouse, and the limited space has been a hindrance in trying to store enough food for the needy. Adkison is diligently searching for additional federal and state funds.

The proposed stimulus package has generated hope of forthcoming funds. Sen. Pryor and Sen. Lincoln alerted Adkison of the

projected opportunity for additional funding. “I’m already approaching banks because the reality is that the funds will probably combine guaranteed loans with allocations generated by the stimulus package,” he said. U.S. Congressman John Boozman has been involved with assisting ARVAC in finding funds as well.

“He has a great grant writer that is very aggressive about helping us,” Adkison said, “and we are very grateful.”

“Our requests for winter assistance have tripled since last year,” Adkison said. ARVAC has received over 3,300 requests for the one-time payment.

“We’re able to help about 5,500 households.” The payments run about $125. “That’s not much to help for the entire winter,” he said.

Adkison is particularly concerned for the elderly clients.

“The elderly are part of a generation that doesn’t really like the idea of getting help. They’re fiercely independent. And this embarrasses them.”

“The poor will always be with us. Our mission is to be the best stewards with what we have and to get the best utilization from our resources,” Adkison said.

Although he’s never drank or smoked, he recognizes the emotional and financial havoc substance abuse wreaks on families, and he responds.

“I’m a rehab person, and I believe in giving second chances.”

ARVAC opened a treatment program for persons suffering from alcohol addictions in 1974 and, over the years, Freedom House expanded to include women and those suffering from drug addictions.

“There, but for the grace of God, go I,” Adkison said. “Don’t tell me people can’t be helped. Give people as many chances as they need to succeed.” He believes it is hard to discern why a person acts in a certain way, but he is certain many folks didn’t have the opportunity to grow up as he did, with family and church.

“It doesn’t concern me where people came from,” he said. “I’ve seen clients come into the treatment center from all walks of life, and I get to witness a change in them when they realize somebody cares for them. Whether they indicate it or not people want and need others to care for and respect them.

Adkison has a long affiliation with the Assemblies of God church, serving as an elder, deacon and Sunday School teacher, but he believes strongly in walking the talk.

“You’ve got to meet people in the marketplace. If you treat them right long enough, something good will come of it,” he said.

“There are a lot of hurting people out there,” he continues, “and this is a faith- based community initiative carrying Christ’s caring passion. Whether you’re a Christian or just a do-gooder, they need you.”

Adkison is married to Opal, and father to sons Gary and Greg, both residing in Pulaski County. Also the grandfather of Jennifer and Christopher, Adkison is grateful to the local medical community and the Heart Hospital for saving him.

“I used to fly a little Piper Cub, and I told the MedFlight crew I’d always wanted to ride in a helicopter,” Adkison said. “I wasn’t in any pain, and I was stabilized, so they let me sit up and take in the horizon.”

Waiting for his heart surgery, Adkison admits he couldn’t help being a bit concerned: “I wasn’t worried, so to speak, but I did keep wondering if my heart would start again once they stopped it. Going through something like that makes you wonder if you have everything in order, and if your life is right.”

“But my faith sustained me,” he said. “I’m here for a purpose, and my job is to find out what’s that purpose is. I’m truly blessed. I’ve seen a lot of suffering people.”

Adkison adheres to a personalized, self- medicated treatment schedule guaranteed to recharge his heart. Whenever he feels low, the beloved community leader admits that walking among the men and women residing at the agency’s rehabilitation campus and encouraging them to victory is the best medicine for his heart.

“I can tell you that my heart feels as if there was nothing ever wrong with it,” Adkison said.

 

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