TAMPA — Almost instinctively Thursday, Gov. Rick Scott started working the room at the Derrick Brooks Camp for Champions. He shook two small hands before facing the crowd of middle school kids.
He told the children, who are in the foster care system, snippets of his life story. He said he lived in public housing for a time.
The kids burst into laughter when they learned that the governor once earned only a penny a newspaper as a delivery boy.
"I was not the best negotiator," he said.
Several children — who attended the event organized by Derrick Brooks Charities, Hillsborough Kids and the state Department of Children and Families — asked questions about his doughnut shop.
Scott was there to serve as a role model, not a partisan political figure, and he fit the part. He even spoke kindly of President Barack Obama: "He's a nice guy. He's working hard."
Despite low approval ratings and critical media coverage, he spoke fondly of his job as governor.
"It's a better job than you think," Scott said. "The newspapers only write good things about you."
But the middle schoolers did not just lob softball questions. One complained that the state had reduced support for foster families.
"We didn't cut. We didn't cut their checks," Scott said, taken aback. He suggested the child call the state. "Somebody else has got your money."
Former Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks helped organize the two-day event, which will continue today .
Brooks said he was thankful the governor interacted with the kids and gave them "one nugget of hope."
"Today wasn't about policy," Brooks said. "It was about principles."