Through trauma, 192nd Wing Airman works to end bullying, boost confidence in children

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Lucretia Cunningham
  • 192nd Wing

JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va.— The year was 2018 when Rebecca Adams was crushed by the news her mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Adams has no siblings, and her mother raised her as a single parent in Portsmouth, Virginia. Needless to say, their relationship could be described as nothing less than “very close.” In 2019, the two celebrated receiving college degrees together, in the same month!

When she received the news, Adams was balancing a civilian job and a busy military career. She was commuting from southeast Virginia to her reserve unit at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware for drills and then served a tour at the Pentagon. But in the midst of it all, she somehow found a way to cope while also giving back to the community she grew up in. Adams founded “Fast Forward Shoe Drive;” an annual back-to-school charity event where children receive new or gently used shoes ahead of their big day in a new classroom.

“I think I needed an escape, something to keep my mind busy so I wouldn’t be sad or worried all the time,” she said. “Fast Forward gave me a type of outlet that I needed at that time.”

It started as a random idea, something she just threw up on social media to see what kind of response she would get. In the summers of 2018 and 2019, Adams collected and distributed close to 200 pairs of shoes to children in southside Hampton Roads. She set up shop at a Norfolk apartment complex and while other organizations were giving away backpacks and school supplies, Adams said there was a deeper reason she chose shoes. It goes back to her childhood memories of being ridiculed for the designer shoes and clothes her mom couldn’t afford to buy for her.

“The concept is to move kids forward through shoes by building confidence and eliminating bullying,” Adams said. “I saw kids come through the shoe drive...and I watched the same kids leave with a pair of shoes that actually fit! The way their posture changed, their expression changed, how they could now look me in the face and talk to me; it’s all about building that confidence by giving a pair of shoes.”

She admitted that collecting shoes -- especially shoes kids would be proud to wear -- is no easy task. But while she remembered being teased, she also remembered times when people were generous to her and her mother.

“It was just important for me to try and give back the same way people had given to me growing up; giving back how that made me feel as a kid,” she said.

Since kids have been attending school virtually and pandemic restrictions have limited crowds, Adams hasn’t found the opportune time for a more recent Fast Forward event but is still crowd sourcing childrens’ shoes for the next one (date to be determined). Her goals for Fast Forward Shoe Drive include turning the idea into a business or nonprofit organization, acquiring storage space for the shoes she receives, and hosting a more public event with support from the Air National Guard. After all, Adams said, it was that same call to service that drew her to both the military and creating the organization.

Tech. Sgt. Adams has been with Virginia Air National Guard as a maintenance scheduler in the 192nd Maintenance Squadron for close to a year. After serving eight years in the Air Force Reserves, the need to transfer to a Virginia-based unit was prioritized when she became her mother’s primary caregiver.

After being told the cancer was gone, doctors found Adams’ mother had developed brain tumors and had to undergo emergency surgery in July 2020. She’s still working through rehabilitation treatment, but Adams reports her mother is walking, talking and even driving again.

“When I found out about the environment, the sort of safe space and familiness here, and knowing I could be closer to home if my mom had treatments or other appointments -- I could be right here,” Adams said. “There were so many reasons I needed to join the unit here in Virginia.”