The Zone after-school program was just getting off the ground at Vineyard Community Church when Kevin Brown joined the staff six years ago.

The Zone after-school program was just getting off the ground at Vineyard Community Church when Kevin Brown joined the staff six years ago.

Since then, Brown has helped the program grow by adding structure to the activities, recruiting more children to participate and finding volunteers.

"It's been a huge, huge success to see where we started with the kids and how it's grown," Brown said.

Brown, a Northland resident, is being recognized as a 2009 Jefferson Award nominee for his work with the after-school program, which serves more than 200 kids in kindergarten through 12th grade.

"Every day, we get a new kid or two," Brown said.

The Zone, held four days a week at the church's Vineyard Community Center, gives kids an after-school alternative to being home alone.

"A lot of these kids are left home alone," Brown said. "This creates a safe environment."

The program serves children from low-income and often single-parent homes, Brown said. The Zone works with the Columbus and Westerville school districts in building relationships with students and their parents.

Kids who participate in The Zone have access to sports programs, tutoring, the arts, homework assistance and mentoring. High school students can participate in college-access programs.

The community center also offers a summer program that serves nearly 500 kids, giving them a place to go during the day and providing them with programs such as field trips to COSI or to the swimming pool.

The program is funded primarily through the church. Though it costs about $1,200 per student, Brown said, parents pay only $60 for the summer program. The Zone after-school program is free for participants.

A large part of the program's success, Brown said, hinges on the relationships that The Zone builds with parents. The program offers mediation for families and will support parents when they have to deal with schools on issues relating to their kids.

"We not only work with the kids, we work with the families," Brown said. "A lot of (the parents) are intimidated and don't know how to help their kids."

Brown said he's motivated to help kids through The Zone because he grew up in an environment similar to what many of the students in his program face.

"I come from a pretty large family, and a single mom," Brown said. "A lot of the things I do and the job I have has to do with my childhood and growing up in a fatherless household."

Brown said it's rewarding to provide The Zone's participants with the resources that he didn't have growing up.

"We need help, and we need to help each other," he said.

Brown is one of 20 central Ohio residents who have been nominated for the Jefferson Awards. Five will be named winners in a ceremony on April 1.

Of those five, one will be selected to travel to the national awards in Washington, D.C., later this year. Five winners will be named on the national level.

jnesbitt@thisweeknews.com