Teenagers from all over central Ohio already know Kevin Brown's name.

Teenagers from all over central Ohio already know Kevin Brown's name.

Now the rest of the country is hearing about his work as coordinator for the Vineyard Church after-school program.

Brown was one of only five people to receive a national Jefferson Award for community service at a gala in Washington, D.C., on June 16. He was honored for his work with Vineyard Church's after-school program, The Zone, which offers a structured place for kids to learn and play, he said.

"It was awesome going to the capital, just an unbelievable experience," Brown said. "It was wonderful to be there with a lot of great people who do the same or similar work as what we do here -- it's all about community and public service and I was just happy to be in that sort of company."

In March, Brown became one of five local Jefferson Award winners from central Ohio. He was chosen from that group to compete in the national Jefferson Awards program.

For the last seven years, Brown has transformed The Zone from a basic child-care service into a program children from all over central Ohio talk about and consider their own. When he first took over the program, about a dozen children would show up for after-school programs and, at most, 30 would attend special summer workshops, Brown said. That number has skyrocketed.

"We had 485 registered in the last summer," Brown said proudly.

Brown described The Zone as serving children from low-income and often single-parent homes.

"We provide a safe environment for these kids to play," he said. "In The Zone we do mentoring, tutoring, one-on-one homework assistance, sports and recreation activities and a lot of cultural activities for the neighborhood kids. We get a wide range of kids from various socioeconomic backgrounds, but we still serve our neighborhood."

When Brown first became a part of the program seven years ago, The Zone consisted of a standard gymnasium and a closet stuffed with athletic equipment.

Things have changed since then.

"We put out a call to the senior leadership and the church built a state-of-the-art community center, a really safe place for the kids to come to," Brown said. "The facility has a gym, a dance room, class rooms, free legal services and a medical clinic for families. That's the great thing about Vineyard -- the focus of all this is to provide something for the people outside of our walls, not just inside. Pastor (Rich Nathan) always says that if our city prospers, then we will prosper."

Nathan said even local school administrators have approached him and asked just how Brown and other volunteers at The Zone have taught respect and self-discipline to children.

"All we are doing is showing kids attention and love, but they're also challenged to have accountability and discipline," Nathan said. "Under (Brown's) leadership The Zone has grown not only in numbers, but in quality."

Brown said he relates to many of the children coming through the program because he grew up in a single-parent household.

"When I look at these kids I see myself, growing up and struggling," he said. "And I've been here long enough that now there are kids who came up through the program and now work for me here at The Zone. It's just a wonderful feeling."

The Jefferson Awards program was founded in 1972 by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Sen. Robert Taft Jr. and Sam Beard to honor public and community service. The awards are given to those who exhibit acts of courage, vision, dedication and tenacity.

The local Jefferson Awards are presented annually by WBNS-TV (Channel 10), the Nationwide On Your Side Volunteer Network and ThisWeek Community Newspapers.

More information about Vineyard Church, 6000 Cooper Road, and The Zone can be found online at www.vineyardcolumbus.org.