A lifetime of nonprofit service brought Heidi Brown into her role as CEO of Jewish Family and Children’s Service of the Suncoast. “I always knew I wanted to help people,” Brown tells SRQ, which led to becoming CEO at Aviva before coming to JFSC. She officially took the reins in January 2017 and quickly established herself as a key voice in philanthropy in the region. We spoke about the gifts life has given her. 

Rose Chapman   She led JFCS for 23 years and as she moved toward retirement I was able to come here and build on the legacy she established. She’s still local and still a supporter, and provides me with guidance and suggestions. I feel fortunate to have her. The most important thing Rose has shared with me is to never forget that JFCS gives people hope, and at the end of the day that’s why we are here. That’s become a North Star for me. 

Intracoastal Waterway  When my husband, David Lyles, and I moved to Florida, having access to the Intracoastal and the water was something. We have a tandem kayak now. We go out and explore—whether we just go out for a quick hour or we make a whole day of it. We’ll drop our kayak in whether it’s off Bird Key or Vamo Road Park or Phillipi Creek; there are lots of local access points

Cycling in Tandem  We actually took a test to see if we would be compatible to ride together on a tandem bike and we passed the test. So we bought a tandem bike off of Craigslist. At first I didn’t like it at all, but my husband really wanted it—now I love it. If you are in the back seat, like I am, you have no control. You don’t steer, you don’t brake and you don’t control the seat; you are totally dependent on who is in front. For me, it’s nice to not be in control. I do that all day long. We ride it on the Legacy Trail.  

Club Pilates  We love Pilates. You focus on strengthening your core. It’s all about the mind-body connection, and about its relation to stress and stress reduction. The work becomes very challenging and I just love everything about it. That’s been something completely new to me. 

Human Equity  I grew up in a working class family. I was the first to go to college, but we always had a foundational belief to put aside money to do things for others less fortunate. Philanthropy is what distinguishes the nonprofit from the for-profit world. We’re focused on something bigger than money, and that thing is for people to care for other human beings. We’re more than providers of a service or product. We care about equity. We are truly neighbors helping neighbors. 

Shrimp ‘n’ Grits  One of my favorite restaurants is Owen’s Fish Camp, and we love Veronica’s. Clearly, we have a seafood theme. I have come to love grits, which I had not eaten prior to living in Florida. I love to get the shrimp ‘n’ grits or escargot and grits. I love that it takes on the flavor or whatever you make.

Tuesdays With Morrie, by Mitch Albom   I love the message of looking at the interaction between the human experience of living and of dying. The overarching theme of that book to me is that love is the most valuable thing we can offer to each other. It promotes the value of investing in people rather than material objects, 

Shiny Shoes  I have my children’s first shoes bronzed. It reminds me of when they were little guys. Now Aaron is 21 and Daniel is 23. These were from when they first learned to walk, so when they were around one-year-old.

Mom’s Ring  It’s something she [Elaine] gave me before she passed away in 2009. It makes me remember her, although she’s always in my heart. She and my dad had this amazing marriage with love and respect and fun. When I put on her ring, it makes me feel closer to her.

Costa Rica  Since we moved here, it’s hard to find a vacation spot because it’s so beautiful. I’ve loved visiting Costa Rica. I’ve been three times. It’s so diverse with tropical rainforests and beautiful beaches. 

Remember the Titans  One of the movie moments I always love is “We are the Titans.” I just love that the movie promotes racial equality and teamwork and hope. It’s a great story on leadership, and I can watch that over and over again. Plus we’re a football family.  

Home Cooking  My husband is a home chef and anything he cooks is my favorite food. I like anything in the wok, like stir fry, or anything on the grill. He chars things just perfectly for me. I love that, both for the flavor and for not having to clean up the kitchen.