MAKING A DIFFERENCE
By Darlene Donloe
Inez “Tootie” Adkins knows a lot about children.
She has four of her own ranging in age from 11 to 26. As a mother, she has spent countless hours advising her children on how to live “their best lives.”
So, she wasn’t surprised when her children’s friends also started asking her for guidance.
She found herself dispensing advice so often that in 2015, she decided to launch the Urban Lady Foundation, a nonprofit with a vision to make a positive impact on the lives of young people.
“People kept telling me I had a way of uplifting and making people feel empowered and helping people find what they want to do in the future,” said Adkins, an embalmer by trade. “They kept telling me I was good at it.”
Adkins, who has three boys and one girl, said she first started coaching young men about everything under the sun.
“They would go home and tell their parents and then the parents would call and tell me their kid is like a different person,” said Adkins, who grew up in Compton.
Eventually, she expanded her advice to both sexes, with an emphasis on females.
Now, the Urban Lady Foundation is committed to creating opportunities for girls and women by empowering them to achieve their goals, fight discrimination, pursue gender equality and ensure that women have a voice that influences their decision-making towards their future goals and aspirations.
Adkins, 47, started her organization because she said, as a mother of three boys she cares what’s going on in her community.
“I’m really big on children being and feeling safe in their communities,” Adkins said. “I have three boys. I live in Compton. I’m scared, I’m nervous. Compton has gang violence.
“What I want my children and everybody else’s child to know is how valuable they are to us and to society and that they need to make the right choices in life,” she added. “They need to go to school, get their education and then get out of here. Don’t stick around here because it’s not safe.
“The men gravitate toward that. Right now the morale is down. Their friends are getting killed. I try to uplift them.”
The Urban Lady Foundation has various “master classes” for young people including financial literacy, how to start a business and how to create business credit.
There is also an etiquette program that teaches girls how to be young ladies.
“I take them to fancy restaurants and show them how to eat, and put their napkin in their lap,” Adkins said. “I want them to know what to do when they go out.”
Adkins has also taken some of the participants to Disneyland. For some, it was their first visit to “the happiest place on Earth.”
“I take them to Disneyland because I want them to know there is another world out here,” Adkins said. “I’ve taken them on trips to Newport Beach, San Diego and other field trips. Sometimes we just go look at big houses and just drive through neighborhoods. Some of these kids have never been past 97th Street.”
Adkins said she likes to “hit the road” with the kids. She’s able to do it because of her sponsors.
“I have amazing sponsors,” said Adkins, who can always use more funding. “They love the ideas I come up with. I spend every dime I’m given on the children. One of my sponsors paid for me to take 15 kids to Disneyland. I get to see the smiles come out.”
Adkins said she’d like to take the children on their first airplane ride to Disneyworld.
“I have big plans for the kids,” she said. “One of those includes plans to take Amtrak to the Santa Barbara Zoo.”
One of Adkins’ favorite activities is “Tootie Has Keys to the Mall.”
“I bring the kids to the mall and they have a shopping experience,” Adkins said. “It’s only them in the store. The kids come with their own money. The ones who don’t have any money, I buy them something. I try to buy something for everybody and then treat them to lunch at a restaurant in Macy’s.”
Adkins said the event usually happens on a Saturday or Sunday before the store opens to the public.
“Macy’s opens up just for us,” Adkins said. “We get there at 7 a.m. and go until noon. I’m so passionate about giving youth and young adults an experience they’ve never experienced in life. I hope it changes their outlook on everything and sparks a fire in them to reach for where they really want to be.”
The children who participate in the Urban Lady Foundation come from Adkins’ church, local schools, and friends of friends who have joined the programs.
“I even have some moms who have joined the program,” Adkins said.
The Urban Lady Foundation currently receives the majority of its funding from private donors and fundraising events.
Adkins said the demand and need for her programs and services continue to grow at a rate that outpaces her current financial resources.
Each year Adkins hosts a fundraiser called Tootie’s Classy Jazz Affair.
“This event provides an excellent opportunity for us to fundraise to expand our current programs, while also providing a wonderful cultural event, right here in the beautiful city of Compton,” Adkins said.
The jazz festival is held at Adkins’ home. She brings in bands to play in her backyard and offers an all-you-can-eat experience. Tickets are $50-$60.
“It’s a shame we can’t do it this year because of COVID,” Adkins said. “It really is a beautiful, cultural event.”
Adkins said the Urban Lady Foundation’s future plans are to continue to grow the foundation.
“I just want to continue to spread the word and the good news and hopefully we all get better.”
Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.