The life of Carol Jenkins Barnett is one marked by empathy and action. Through early childhood development, education and healthcare, Barnett paved the way for women and children to succeed through every step of life.
She had a unique ability to take a bird’s-eye view of an issue and create a solution, all while making everyone feel special.
Carol’s legacy lives on in our community through ripples that keep inspiring.
Publix Charities: The Jenkins’ Legacy
When Publix founder George Jenkins passed away, the responsibility to carry out his intentions for philanthropy and charitable giving rested on his daughter’s shoulders.
Carol Jenkins Barnett carried out his dream to “…preserve the dignity and value of the human spirit in the face of adversity.” She dedicated her life’s work to bettering the world around her.
Mr. George set the vision, and Carol ensured it came to fruition.
For more than 50 years, Publix Charities has positioned itself toward Mr. George’s passions: alleviate hunger, reduce homelessness, encourage youth, support education and improve communities.
“Each generation after Mr. George has done more and done better,” said Tina Johnson, Treasurer for Publix Charities. “It’s not something that’s faltered with growth. It’s only gotten stronger.”
Today, Publix Charities operates with only four employees. In addition to its ongoing gifts to charities across the southeast, Publix Charities steps in during hard times. Shortly after Hurricane Ian devastated South Florida, the organization gave $1 million to facilitate disaster relief.
By the end of 2022, Publix Charities will have donated more than $50 million to community initiatives.
“You wouldn’t find anyone more passionate and dedicated toward building stronger communities than Carol,” Tina said. “The good we’ve done since her passing — I believe she would be pleased.”
United Way: Giving Every Child a Chance to Succeed
“I met Carol Barnett in 2003,” says Penny Borgia, former Chief Operating Officer of the United Way of Central Florida. “We were on our way to a national conference where Carol received the United Way of America’s highest award for Early Childhood Advocacy.”
Penny worked with the United Way for 17 years before she retired in 2020. She worked with Carol the entire time and considered her a close friend.
“Carol told me that when she brought her son Wesley to school on his first day of kindergarten, she was shocked to see students who could not print their names or say their name in a sentence. From that day forward, she was dedicated to giving every child a chance to succeed.”
Working with Penny, Carol helped launch a program called Success By 6 in Central Florida. Success by 6 is an initiative that promotes healthy early childhood development to ensure children enter school ready to succeed.
“Children who start behind, stay behind. Carol wanted to level the playing field.”
Carol brought business, government, church and non-profit leaders together to identify ways to improve school readiness for all children in Polk, Hardee and Highlands counties.
Penny said she witnessed business people with little interest in early education come to the table. “It was hard to say no to Carol Barnett, ” she says.
And because of Carol, they learned that a strong workforce depends on quality early childhood opportunities.
“Carol’s persistence and determination taught this community that good beginnings never end,” Penny recalled.
These same individuals are now early childhood advocates from the business community who continue to enthusiastically champion early childhood initiatives.
Carol spearheaded community studies, which ultimately resulted in Family Fundamentals, a parent resource center. Family Fundamentals provides family services, children’s programs, teacher training and parent education. She also worked with the Early Learning Coalition at the local and state level to improve quality standards, and funded the Master Teacher program.
When studies revealed that many low-income children did not have books in their homes, Carol implemented multiple nationwide collaborations to change that statistic.
As a result, 232,500 books were sent home with local children in just the last five years.
“Because of Carol, hundreds of thousands of children will graduate from high school, go on to college or technical schools, get better jobs, and strengthen our community,” Penny says. “She gave talented, intelligent children living in challenging circumstances the opportunity to meet their potential.
“If we stand still, we go backwards. Carol’s story inspires us to move forward. Her legacy demands that we keep working together to level the playing field.”
Lakeland Regional Health: Giving Mothers and Babies Access to Hope and Health
Carol believed in the power of good healthcare. She had a vision for a state-of-the-art facility in Lakeland — one that could support the health of mothers and their children.
In 2016, she provided a transformational naming gift to the Lakeland Regional Health Foundation to charter the Pavilion for Women and Children. The gift is the largest donation received to date by the foundation.
“Carol’s gift changed the way women and children can be cared for,” said Danielle Drummond, the President and CEO of Lakeland Regional Health. The pavilion gives women and children increased access to high quality healthcare. It offers a full continuum of care, from emergency to outpatient services, with 16 specialties from maternal care and fetal medicine to labor and delivery. More than 50,000 children have been cared for in the emergency department this year alone.
The pavilion houses the only Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) in Polk County for babies that need a little extra time and specialized care.
The pavilion remains the single largest extension to the hospital’s capabilities. “Carol took a keen interest in the women and children of our community. She had a real passion for improving lives and enriching wellness for our patients.” Drummond said.
“And through it all, I was always in awe of how down to earth she was. She never made it about herself. But she transformed everything.”
Florida Southern College: Setting the Future in Motion
Carol and Barney are both proud graduates of Florida Southern College, and they have more than just memories to show for their time spent as Moccasin faithful.
Carol wanted to educate the whole student, from kindergarten to college graduation, and throughout all elements of the college experience.
“Mr. George was a major philanthropist from the beginning, and Carol carried that through,” said Dr. Anne Kerr, Florida Southern College President.
Early in Dr. Kerr’s tenure as president, she met with Carol to talk about everything she wanted to see come to fruition in the next few years. “Carol took the time to understand my desires for the future of Florida Southern, and what I wanted my students to experience,” Dr. Kerr said.
She honed in right away on student housing. “Carol took it upon herself to designate Florida Southern as a second home for every student. One of the first gifts she made was to fund the Barnett residence life halls.”
Carol worked with an architect to design the halls. She was involved in every aspect of the project — from architecture to wall colors to tiles.
“One of her qualities that I still revel in today is her commitment to excellence. She was all about other people,” Dr. Kerr said. “She was interested. She wanted to know your story. She gave her all to the things she committed to.”
Dr. Kerr said Carol had a remarkable understanding of college-age individuals. She knew how students would select a college, foster social development, and identify professional opportunities.
It was true, Carol was passionate about access to higher education. The GW Jenkins Scholars Program at FSC provides students with full tuition, room and board, and international study opportunities.
Five students per year are awarded the scholarship, and it is aimed toward students for whom a college education wouldn’t be possible.
“Sometime later during lunch, she talked with me about academics. Business was our largest major. We wanted to make it even better, and add specialties like finance and marketing,” Dr. Kerr recalled. Carol wanted to do something special for her husband, and granted a naming gift to the school.
The Barney Barnett School of Business and Free Enterprise now offers specialized tracks like entrepreneurship, business analytics and economics.
“Carol unveiled the naming to Barney at his birthday party,” Dr. Kerr said, noting she was in attendance. “It was really an act of love. In perpetuity, she could convey to Barney her love for him at their alma mater. It was a special moment.”
Dr. Kerr said everyone can take a page out of Carol’s legacy on how to live a good life: spend your time on what interests you most, share your dreams and visions and celebrate with the people you love.
“She was humble,” Kerr said, “She would hate me saying this, but there will never be another Carol Jenkins Barnett.”