A woman with purpose: Bridgette Akins

Aurora York| News and Features Co-Editor | ayork@mail.smcvt.edu

When I asked Bridgette Akins about her values, she smiled. “I actually have my own purpose statement,” she said proudly. “My purpose is to connect, serve, explore, and inspire.” As evident in her life and career here at St. Michael’s, Akins has lived her life with purpose: in her faith, wellness journey, and in helping others. 

Akins has been at St. Michael’s for two years, starting in 2020 under a grant through SPECTRUM Youth and Family Services. Her official title is SBIRT (Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment) Clinician, but she also does extensive programming and activities tailored to students’ needs. Win Turner, director of the grant, said  in an email that the grant  is ultimately focused on schools, community programs, and colleges and universities. “There are four colleges/universities involved including SMC, and we have engaged over 3000 students and provided over 500 motivational interventions,” Turner said. In addition to St. Michael’s, three other schools are involved in the program: Middlebury, Castleton, and Champlain.Turner said that all schools involved in the grant have the funds to hire a SBIRT Clinician like Akins.

Akin’s main role is to be a guide and outreach to all of Bergeron’s resources. Whether that be issues of domestic abuse, substance abuse, or struggles with mental illness, Bergeron has both preventative and intervention tools available to help. However, students are not always knowledgeable about the resources that are accessible to them. That’s where Akins comes in. With the screenings and check-ins, Akins is able to offer the exact tools and resources specific to a student’s problems.

Kathleen Butts is Akin’s supervisor at Bergeron and counseling director at St. Michael’s College. She says that Bergeron has needed someone like Akins for a long time. “We don’t have enough people to do all the things that need to happen,” Butts said.  “I feel like having her as this outreach arm of Bergeron allows us to do all the things that we’ve needed to do, and we’ve tried to do, but we just haven’t had enough person power.”

Bridgette standing by one of her favorite places at St. Michaels-the word garden.

Akin’s main job is screening students with a survey that encompasses all problems and issues a student might experience. But in addition to this, she also does work with outreach, activities and programming. She focuses on issues that every college student encounters. “She meets students where they are,” Butt said.

“I feel like I connect well, but I always try to be open and mindful with students to just name that we are different in lots of different ways,” Akins said when discussing how she connects with students. In addition to all the students who have attended her events, Akins met with approximately 150 students for check-ins this past fall semester, and with around 530 students who have completed the introductory survey on issues they experience that have led Akins to develop a better understanding of what the students need. 

The screening that Akins does is the main focus of her job, and it is also the most important factor in deciding what programming students will most benefit from. Jane Bradley, ’23 is one of two student wellness ambassadors, also hired through the SPECTRUM grant. Bradley said Akins is always checking in with students, but also with Bradley and Juneau Rich, ’24, the two ambassadors that help Akins with BeWell programming. “Juneau and I’s job is to meet with Brigette and decipher what the needs are on campus,” Bradley said. 

Akins’ focus is to make the resources and tools available to students should they need them, and in addition to that provide programming and events that would help them through their college experience. “Most people are very open to giving critiques on what they wish would happen or what they need,” Akins said. “And then again, when I’m at these events, I always like to talk to students and ask them “What do you think? What’s going on?” Recently, Akins, Rich, and Bradley have been actively working on the Zen Zone in Alliot and putting on the event Fresh Check Day, which took place on Feb. 21st. Both of these events accrued large crowds and were considered successful by Akins and others who helped make them possible.

Signs surrounding the Zen Zone hang from the ceiling.
Harm Reduction kits are some of the many services that students can access via the Zen Zone.
Service dog Miller and senior Rada Ruggles.

Akins is neither overly judgemental nor harsh about concepts like using substances or being sexually active, instead there is a simple focus on harm reduction and safety, as Bradley comments “She even said, ‘These things happen, so how can we do them safely’” That attitude is what allows Akins to be  an important and genuine resource to students on campus. 

Akin’s personal journey is also one that she uses to connect and share with others.Three years ago, Akins battled ovarian cancer, and through her wellness lifestyle and faith, she was able to beat it. Akins wrote a book on her experience, titled “RISE UP: Defining Your Cancer Journey, so Cancer Doesn’t Define You.” In addition to writing and publishing this book on her experience, she is also a woman’s cancer coach and someone who has spoken about it to classes on campus and other areas. Akins said her cancer experience solidified the wellness lifestyle that she preached and believed in for so long. “I was diagnosed with cancer, and went through that journey in 2020 with my family,” Akins said. “And I already knew how important these wellness things that I was teaching were, but they suddenly became extremely applicable in my own life.”

Bridgette sitting on the couch in the Zen Zone.

As a person, she is consistent and real. Butts said there was no shortage of good things to say about Akins “I do see her as being a values-based person,” Butts said. “I think she has a lot of integrity, I find her to be really honest and trustworthy, she is very faith-based, and I also think she is a person who looks at possibility and potential…There’s a lot of kindness built into how she works.” Bradley also had a lot to say about Akins, saying “She’s a pretty awesome human,” Bradley said. “A great boss. She deserves this.” 

Throughout her life, Akins has always used her faith and optimism to help herself and others. “I have sort of a helper mentality,” she admits. Akins uses her faith in God and genuine compassion for others as a motivation to help others better their lives. Even though she has only been on St. Michael’s campus for two years, the change she has made here is real and tangible, and she has only just begun. “I really believe God put me here at Saint Michael’s for a reason,” Akins said. “To help others and make it a better place.”