In 2016, a program called “GEMS- Girls Empowered and Motivated to Serve” was born. I saw a need for positive female role models in our communities to influence, encourage, and inspire the youngest generation of leaders. As a contestant in the Miss America Organization, I aimed to create a community of strong, powerful girls who wish to make a difference. As I go on the road to host GEMS workshops and share a love for service with others, I decided to feature MORE amazing women who also dedicate their time and talents toward making their communities a better place.
In continuation of this blog series, meet Brenda Collins, a woman of faith with a heart for service. I’ve had the privilege of working with Brenda for a few years now throughout my journey within the Miss America Organization. She has also been an amazing resource in the development of the GEMS program and I’m so lucky to call her a great friend and mentor.
Brenda is a Wisconsin Rapids native and had the opportunity to serve her hometown as Miss Wisconsin Rapids Area in 2001. Shortly after high school, she received her certification in Youth Ministry Studies and pursued her career wholeheartedly.
In 2005, Brenda moved to Portage, Wisconsin and began working with high school teens in her parish. Since then, she has organized and embarked on several mission trips around the country doing inner city service work. For three years, she also served as the Executive Director for a local Miss America Organization scholarship program held in Portage.
In 2015, Brenda got involved with a local service organization called Love Begins Here, which led her on a total of 16 weeks of missionary work.
Today, Brenda stays involved by serving as a judge and mentor within the Miss America Organization and volunteering as a Lead Missionary and Host Site Work Coordinator for Love Begins Here.
Love Begins Here is a Catholic service learning program inspired by Saint Mother Teresa’s call to bring love into one’s own community.
“This past summer, there were over 600 teens in the Madison area that put in over 17,000 hours of service,” Brenda said.
At an LBH mission trip, teens learn about the Mission Manifesto, which instills the importance of putting neighbors first, doing small things with great love, and learning what it means to be a missionary.
“I thought the concepts of doing small things with great love and starting service work in local neighborhoods were so much more realistic and doable for teens,” Brenda said. “These are concepts that everyone can do on a daily basis and learn to do more frequently. They don’t have to wait every year or go to faraway places to put service and love into action.”
Brenda has learned a lot from being involved. For example, she believes that sometimes we get caught up in thinking that making a difference means we have to do something big or be in a position of power.
“It’s quite the opposite! If we all did small things with great love for those we interact with every day, the world would be a much better place. The people that we’ve served have been so grateful for our help and time spent with them,” Brenda said. “It makes you feel good and want to do more.”
Brenda has found inspiration in the teens, as many of them come back year after year to participate.
“They take a week from their summer vacation to help their neighbors in need and grow in their faith,” Brenda said. “We often hear a lot about what is wrong with the current generation of teens, but after working alongside them for a week, I see a lot that is positive and uplifting.”
Brenda believes that it’s important for girls to get involved in something that will give them a sense of purpose.
“Not only does it help the community, but it helps girls gain self-esteem and learn more about who they are. When you take time to help others, you see a different perspective,” Brenda said. “Focusing on others can also distract your mind from any negative thoughts about yourself and help you see yourself in a new light.”
If you’re interested in learning more about Love Begins Here, visit their website or Facebook page! You can also reach out to your own church or other faith based organization in your community to find more opportunities for mission work.
“A great way to get involved is simply by living out the Mission Manifesto, doing small things with great love, and giving service to your neighbors.”
Brenda is a great example of embracing your faith to give back to your community. It doesn’t matter where you come from or what your background is, you don’t have to travel far to make a difference in the lives of others. The people who need the most might be right next door.