City celebrates expansion of Parramore Kidz Zone

By Julie Gargotta, Reporter
Last Updated: Wednesday, January 10, 2018, 5:47 PM EST

It’s an expansion of a longtime Orlando program, hoping to reach more children and teens in a new neighborhood.

  • Parramore Kidz Zone to expand to Holden Heights
  • Reach of PKZ formerly limited to geographical area
  • PKZ has worked with 5,000 children in lower-income areas

The City of Orlando on Wednesday celebrated Parramore Kidz Zone coming to Kaley Square, located along West Kaley Street downtown, following an $80,000 grant from the Heart of Florida United Way.

Soon, a computer lab, game room and academic advisor will be available to PKZ teens in Holden Heights, an area adjacent to Parramore but one formerly out of the mentoring program’s reach.

“Now we’re at a point where we’re able to help more young people, and that’s what this is all about," said Raysean Brown.

Brown grew up in Parramore and in 2006, was one of the first members of a new city program, Parramore Kidz Zone.

“It was basically a lady by the name of Miss Tony who rounded up a group of boys who were very athletic and active in sport," he said. “It was really just her, winging it out of a car. You get a program that says hey, we’re going to go on college trips. We’re going to go to D.C.”

But the program left an indelible mark on Brown.

After college, he returned to the place where he grew up to become a mentor himself. Now, as the lead student advocate for PKZ, Brown works closely with dozens of teens, making sure they stay on track.

Each day, he travels between high schools and city rec centers, mentoring and counseling.

“It’s my job to sit down with each kid, create a success plan, and then make sure they stick to that success plan," he said.

There was only one problem — the reach of Parramore Kidz Zone was limited to geographical area, with the southern limit at Gore Street. That meant students living just south of Gore couldn't be part of the mentoring.

“For so long, we only had the funding to provide for that one zone. It’s hard going to school with the same kids that can’t benefit from the same resources," Brown explained.

For years, the city fought for funds to expand the program, but found it difficult. Competing against bigger cities, like Boston of Chicago, with higher crime rates, Orlando was overlooked.

But the Heart of Florida United Way grant, spread out over three years, helped get the gears in motion.

“A lot of these kids are told that they don’t matter, what their interests are, what their dreams are, they don’t matter. And the student advocate is to push these kids and say no, you are important," said Jeff Hayward, President and CEO of the Heart of Florida United Way.

During Wednesday's ceremony, Hayward shared his own personal story of growing up with several siblings and a single parent mother.

As he veered off track, a police officer working with the juvenile crimes division knocked on his door, letting him know that he'd heard his name floated around, and encouraged Hayward to make better life choices to make his parents proud.

"A student advocate is there to help them, guide them, push them — sometimes gently — but firmly in the right direction," he said.

For Brown, it was PKZ that kept him on the straight and narrow. Now, he looks to the future of the program.

“It’s important to me because somebody did it for me," he said. “We are here to lean on and give that support.”

Since PKZ's inception over a decade ago, they’ve worked with 5,000 children in the lower income area.

The city also reports that juvenile arrests in the area in which the program covers are down 63 percent.