Counselor Spotlight: Kerry Adamek

By Rebecca Smith

Kerry Adamek became a counselor because he knew he needed more training to deal with the heavy burdens his congregants were bringing him at the church he pastors, Calvary Baptist Church in Talco.

“A lady came to me who had been raped and molested as a kid and young adult,” he said. “She thought a preacher should have all the answers, and this one had none. I thought I was through with school, but I had folks who thought I would be a great counselor because I could preach, but I didn’t know nothin’ about it.”

Kerry counsels students for Next Step with several juvenile probation offices. Next Step’s program puts licensed professional counselors at juvenile probation offices and schools at a fraction of what it would cost to hire their own staff.

Even though Kerry is a pastor, he rarely talks about God to the teens he sees for Next Step.

“None of them know I’m a preacher, I never tell them that,” he said. “I have some Red River kids who know just because they meet me here at the church, but it don’t seem to bother them, they don’t care. I don’t ever just put that out there. Unless they want to talk about God, we don’t talk about God. When I’m a counselor, I’m a counselor. It’s about their needs, not mine.”

While some Next Step counselors see a combination of clients at schools and juvenile probation offices, Kerry sees juvenile probation clients only. He identifies with them, he said.

Kerry struggled with alcoholism for 20 years before becoming a pastor. He started drinking at 12 years old. His parents got divorced during the 70s when “You just didn’t do that,” he said.

“I became a troubled youth to say the least, with no guidance, no counselor,” he said.

Kerry grew up in Pasadena, south of Houston, with “a liquor store on every corner,” and worked at a “beer joint,” from age 13 until he graduated high school.

“Sometimes I share my story, but I don’t ever start with it,” he said. “I love counseling these kids. I’m 55 years old, I’m an old dude, but they talk to me. I don’t know if I’m their grandpa or what it is, but boys or girls, it doesn’t matter, they talk to me.”

Though sometimes earning that trust takes a few sessions, he said.

“I create a relationship with them. Even if the first few times they’re a little skittish, after that they usually don’t have any problems. I help them understand that they can trust me. Usually they test that the first two or three meetings, they say something to see if it gets back to their probation officer. When it doesn’t, they really don’t have much problem with me after that.”

Kerry sees teens with issues like theft, drug use, sending lewd photos, or other more serious crimes. He said the clients who make the most improvement are sex offender cases.

“That is where you see big changes, because it’s hard to stop that,” he said. “I have one that did the work, he went to treatment, he counsels with me, and he’s been very successful.”

Kerry also believes society sends the message that people with mental health issues are beyond help, which is not true.

“You can function even with mental health problems,” he said. “You have to learn how and how to recognize things. It doesn’t mean you have this uncontrollable, unhealable situation. And secondly, you don’t need to be ashamed of it. It’s a lot of hard work, but there’s a reward. It can be hard to see sometimes because it can take so long.”

In fact, Kerry said almost all of his clients stay an extra 6 months after the required year, even those who had a different attitude at the beginning.

“Most of them think they don’t need it at all at the beginning,” he said. “Most of them think ‘This is just the way I am, so everyone needs to get over it.’ Instead of realizing that, yes, there may be some personality things here, but a lot of the things that get kids in trouble are learned behaviors that can be changed. How do I know that? Because I did it myself.”