It's rare to find Margaret Tutt Adams without a butterfly pin on her lapel or a frog-shaped ring on her hand.
For Adams, chief probation officer and office manager for Columbia County Juvenile Court, the animals hold deep significance for how she's led her life and the importance she places on helping children grow.
"It reminds me of the process I've taken in life, and because of children - it's a process," said Adams, whose office in the Evans Justice Center contains a menagerie of the animal figurines. "A butterfly goes from the caterpillar, to the cocoon stage, and then it metamorphoses into a beautiful butterfly. The same thing with the frog.
"I see myself, when it comes down to children, I'm a part of a team that's the cocoon."
Adams, 54, has worked in the county's Juvenile Court system for 25 years after spending 3 1/2 years teaching in the Columbia County School System and in Los Angeles before moving back to the area.
"From the classroom, I went into the courtroom," she said. "I'm still teaching, but it's more on an individualized level."
In her current position, Adams manages the Juvenile Court office, reviews complaints that come in about juveniles, makes decisions on which incidents go to court, assigns cases to probation officers and orchestrates programs for the juveniles once they are placed under the court's supervision.
But it's the interaction and counseling with the children and their families that Adams propels most in her work.
"If I had an ultimate goal here, it would be to empower young people," she said. "It's a word that I use all the time - to empower them to think.
"People like to say that I work with bad children, I choose to say that I work with children who have made bad decisions and bad choices. A lot of people see this place as being a very punitive place. Yes, we're going to hold them accountable, but we're gong to put something on the plate to the empower them."
On a bookcase in Adams' office sits a bust of Martin Luther King Jr., which she bought to remind her of the sacrifices the civil rights leader made and her desire to give back to the community.
Among the family photos displayed on the bookcase is a poem Adams wrote to her mother, whom she described as a quiet force in her family, teaching Adams and her four brothers to respect their past.
"My mom said that we were born with obligation and responsibility because of the ancestors who had given so much for us," Adams said. "I didn't get here by myself. When I think about being an African-American, somebody died so that I could have the right to have an education or that I could have the right to vote."
Adams, who is a mother and grandmother, grew up in the Appling area. She started school early, tagging along with her brother to a one-room schoolhouse when the school system was still segregated.
It was there in the first grade when her teacher, Mary Jane Beard, made an indelible impact on Adams' life.
"I was so impressed with her that all my life I wanted to teach," Adams said. "I just have to work with kids because that's my greatest love."
After years of working with juveniles, many of whom she met at critical or traumatic points in their lives, it's obvious that Adams also has made an impact on others.
She receives annual Christmas cards and sometimes runs into a successful adult in the county who will ask if she remembers them from their run-in with the Juvenile Court.
Adams said she plans to retire in a few years, but wants to continue working with programs targeting children and teens.
"At the end of my time, when my dash is over, I don't want to be remembered about what type degree, what kind of house, what kind of car," she said, "but did I make a difference, did I impact someone, did I empower someone."
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