FERNANDINA BEACH, Fla. — The 12 Who Care Community Service Awards honors people in the community who make the First Coast a better place to live.
Navy veteran Barb Kent has dedicated her life to serving others, with a special focus on children. She volunteers with middle and high school youth programs, assists with a local Veteran Treatment Court, hosts foreign exchange students, and is a former foster mom.
Each Interact Club meeting at Fernandina Beach High school starts with the pledge and reciting the group’s guiding principles. It’s one of the many lessons these high school students learned from program leader Barb Kent.
“Ms. Barb never isn’t doing something. She is running round helping whoever she can. I’ve never seen her chill out and not doing something she’s always on the run, what can I help with, what can I do," Emma Berner, the Interact Club President, said.
“What reason are we here on earth for if we can’t help others and make other people’s life better, so that’s my job," Kent said.
Kent’s service to others started in 1981 when she joined the U.S. Navy. She spent time in the Bahamas, Italy, and London before retiring from service in 1998.
She moved to Fernandina Beach but never lost her desire to serve others.
“Retirement, I don’t do retirement, there’s to many people that need help and to many people that say no to fun adventures, and people say ‘oh could you take this on’ and I say sure why not," Kent said.
Kent has been a member of the Fernandina Beach rotary club for more than 20 years. She also volunteers with the local Veteran's Treatment Court, assisting with drug treatment programs and mentorship for former service members.
But she says her biggest calling is helping children.
“They’re our future, and sometimes these kids, their parents are working and it’s not the parents don’t love them or neglect them, they’re just working. If you can put a little sparkle in a kid’s life, and they see something totally different, just show them a different window, and they go wow I didn’t know I could do that and I say of course you can, and we’ll help you," Kent said.
She’s opened her home to youth in need as a foster parent. Six children have stayed in her home, some growing alongside her son.
“My son would see these kids come to our house with holes in their shoes, with clothing that hadn’t been washed in weeks, and his eyes were just opened, and that kinda gave me the idea of helping kids because kids need advocates and you have to fight hard to get those kids to have a good life," Kent said.
She is involved in the local teen court program, where she helps misdemeanor youth offenders get criminal charges removed from their record.
She also hosts foreign exchange students. 14 have stayed in her home, including Elma Naess from Sweden who say after just 4 weeks she learned more about herself and life from Kent.
“I’ve had to be able to take more responsibilities because she treats me more like a person and another human being then just someone she has to take care of," Elma Naess, a foreign exchange student, said.
Kent’s dedication to children and her advocacy for youth and veterans is why she’s a 12 Who Care Community Service Award nominee.
“That’s success in life, when you make your kids better, and you show them something different. You raise them up a level, you point them in a new direction, and their life is totally different. There’s nothing better than that feeling of giving to someone else. Just time, it’s not like I have a lot of money but I give them my time and love on them and tell them you can do it," Kent said.