Often the children of those children also spent their early education years in her classroom.
Brodie expected a lot of her young charges.
“In one sense she was no nonsense about her expectations but behind that no nonsense there was a sense that she cared about you. We might call it tough love today,” said Doretha Edgecomb, a Hillsborough County School Board member. Edgecomb went to Helping Hands and later enrolled her daughter.
To honor Brodie’s legacy, funds are being sought to give an annual scholarship to a Hillsborough Community College student, studying in the field of education. Donations to date are more than half way toward reaching a goal of $10,000. As the fund builds, the hope is to increase the number of annual scholarships, said Valerie Goddard, Brodie’s granddaughter.
“She was a guiding force in my life,” said Goddard, who served for about a dozen years as the nursery’s director after her grandmother retired in 1991. “She made such an impact. I know that that has influenced me and made me into the person I am, civic-minded and committed to public service.”
Brodie died in 2008 at age 91.
Her career as an educator began in the mid-1930s when she was a junior at Middleton High School and was a volunteer at Helping Hand. Brodie moved on to full-time teacher and eventually the center’s director. The school’s curriculum was an early version of what evolved into the Head Start program.
The pre-school had been founded in 1924 by Clara Alston to provide child care for working black women. Alston opened Helping Hand in a two-story frame house on Central Avenue aided by members of her social club - the “Merry Makers”.
Central Avenue in the 1940s and 1950s was a thriving black business and entertainment district north of downtown. Highway construction and urban renewal in the 1960s and early 1970s wiped out much of the neighborhood.
Segregation limited opportunities open to black people but Edgecomb said Brodie encouraged her students to be the best they could be. “She afforded us that even with limited resources,” Edgecomb said. “She could be very charming but when it came to what she expected of you she was pretty direct with that.”
A 75-year anniversary of Helping Hand in 1999 featured guest speaker the Rev. Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. Brodie told a reporter then that Helping Hand provided “the same care that the mother would provide if she was able to stay home.”
Among alumni of Helping Hand are Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller and former Tampa state Sen. Jim Hargrett, podiatrist Pauly Sheehy and attorney Delano Stewart.