LARGO — Caroline Brown is focused on kids — their homework, their eating habits, their life skills and their ability to navigate the English language.
Under her direction, children from High Point Elementary School learn to sew, use a computer and grow food from seeds. They ultimately learn to cook the fruit of their labor.
Brown, program coordinator and youth worker at the High Point Neighborhood Family Center across the street from the school, is teeming with ideas to make life better for kids. She is implementing as many of those ideas as she can.
For her achievements thus far, as well as her ability to rally other community resources, Brown was honored last month by the Pinellas County Children's Services Council. She received the Cooperman-Bogue Kids First Award and $2,000.
"What stands out about Caroline is her creativity," said Eddie Burch, communications and outreach coordinator for the council. Among her skills, he said, is the ability to look at available resources and find additional ones.
"She creates innovative, exciting learning opportunities for children and stimulates their development," he said.
Brown has coordinated programs for students at the center since 2006. She credits numerous organizations with helping her along the way. Community partners include the Police Athletic League, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, professional tutors and Allegheny Franciscan Ministries. An Eckerd College grant provided computers, and dozens of individuals and businesses donated sewing machines, fabric and even property.
The children of High Point Elementary come to Brown with challenges.
"Most of our people are the working poor," she said. "More than 80 percent of the kids at High Point Elementary are on the free lunch program."
Many of the children also are native Spanish speakers and need additional help with English skills.
Janet Randall, one of the directors for ACES Tutoring of Pinellas, another community partner, operates under the federally mandated No Child Left Behind program. She tutors many of the 50 or so children who come to the Neighborhood Family Center after school and also participates in its summer programs.
"Caroline is cooperative, encouraging and a good team builder," she said of Brown. "The center is very giving and sharing."
The children also learn how their meals began before making it to the table. The family-owned Gateway organic farm donated a 250-foot plot of land to the center, and donations from Allegheny Franciscan Ministries enabled the kids to create an organic community garden.
"The ministries wanted to promote good health and bring unity to the community," Brown said. The children not only grow vegetables from seeds, but they learn to cook them with instruction from a volunteer chef at the Pinellas Technical Education Center. The program, "Seeds 2 Soup," is on YouTube, with Brown moderating a portion of the video.
Brown, 53, began community service in 2003 when she joined AmeriCorps, a federally funded nationwide community service program. Her father, William L. Tarr Sr., also joined the program.
Tarr, a former Clearwater resident now living in Inglis, tutored elementary school children in St. Petersburg. Brown, who previously had been a mortgage broker, taught finance management to inmates at the Pinellas County Jail.
Now focused on the future, Brown's plans include helping older teenagers from across the county.
"We're trying to take on some of the aging kids in foster care," she said.
To that end, she's trying to line up life coaches to give teens workshops in library skills, computer skills and basic living skills. Many foster teens, she said, need help in passing a driving test, taking a placement test and even caring for a baby.
Brown said her greatest need now is more funding. She could use a van and an assistant who is technologically savvy. Thanks to a Winn Dixie grant three years ago, she has been able to run summer camps, but the funds for the center are declining.
"I see us as a living link," she said. "I can set up all kinds of great events if I can get the funding for them."