Hunter-Koski's time as board member with the Forty Carrot Family Center is the latest stop on a lifelong journey of caring for children and families.
Tomeika Hunter-Koski has lived many lives.
In her first, she grew up in Atlanta with her mother, who owned a preschool and would often bring students home to help them with their schoolwork.
In her second, she joined the U.S. Army at 20 to support her struggling friend who was also entering the military.
Her third was something of a homecoming. Hunter-Koski returned to Atlanta to teach kindergarten and first grade. It was at this stage of her life when she met her future husband, Robert Koski, the man with whom she would later move to Sarasota.
Her current life here on the Suncoast has been busy. Beyond owning a real estate company and being a mother who home-schools her children, Hunter-Koski is also on the board for Forty Carrots Family Center, the local preschool that offers classes and programs for families.
Hunter-Koski, 41, says it’s her lifework to care for people — children in particular.
“If there’s a child that needs something, and I can help, that’s just who I am,” she says. “See a need; fill a need.”
It’s all about playing the long game for Hunter-Koski, who has spent much of her life teaching English to grade-school children at a variety of schools in Georgia and Sarasota. She believes the work done now to enrich a child’s life can have a priceless impact on society down the road.
Embrace The Moment
Hunter-Koski says she prefers the greater actions — embracing the moments that can define you for the rest of your life and hopefully do the same for others.
One such moment occurred 12 years ago when she started teaching 5-year-old Sherri Sams in Sarasota. Hunter-Koski learned Sams’ mother had a drug problem and left the family after her father had been hurt badly in an accident. Unable to drive or work, the dad was sending Sams to school in a taxi and couldn’t help with her kindergarten schoolwork.
Hunter-Koski approached Sams’ father with an offer she remembered her own mother often giving to struggling parents in Georgia.
“I said: ‘Hey, I’m going to take Sherri home with me, so I can help her with her homework’,” Hunter-Koski says. “‘She can spend Monday through Friday with me, and I can take her back to you on Saturday.’ … I was in a position to help her. I don’t know why. I just felt drawn to her’.’”
That first week became two, which became three and eventually something more. Hunter-Koski eventually took Sams in on a more permanent basis.
Welcoming Sams into her family was an act that speaks to a larger pattern in Hunter-Koski’s life. She makes significant, life-altering decisions with complete faith that everything will work out. Sometimes fate hasn’t been on her side — she admits joining the military to support a friend was a rash move — but it’s a mindset she has kept for much of her life.
A birthday celebration trip to Mozambique for her husband in February, for example, turned into a philanthropic mission. Hunter-Koski discovered a local, under-resourced primary school with 23 students that didn’t have school supplies or electricity. She adopted the school and later supplied more than 1,200 pounds of school supplies donated by the Sarasota community. She also spent part of her summer teaching English to the students.
“I just believe I can make a difference,” she says. “Whether it’s going to be a small difference or a big difference, I believe I can do it. I refuse to doubt, and that’s it.”
A Different Level
Hunter-Koski fell into Sarasota’s philanthropy scene while working as a teacher. She became involved with Forty Carrots Family Center through its Wine, Women & Shoes fundraiser and later accepted a position on the board.
She says Forty Carrots’ mission statement easily fell in line with her existing beliefs for improving society. She has always been interested in how children’s upbringings shape their perspective — Sams not knowing what an orca whale is was a sobering moment — and how cultural education can benefit children in the long run.
“It’s easy to write a check, but I want to see tangible goods,” she says. “I like knowing what I’m doing is actually doing good … the dollars actually touch the lives of people.”
Forty Carrots offers parenting classes for new families as well as therapy programs and mental health services. When Sams took the organization’s parenting classes at her public school last year after becoming pregnant, everything came full circle for Hunter-Koski.
The mission, in a sense, is the same for Hunter-Koski as it’s always been. But now with her position as a board member with Forty Carrots, she’s operating on a completely different scale.
“Many people still think of Forty Carrots as just a preschool, and it’s so much more,” she says. “Making sure the community knows it’s more takes a little bit of persistence. … I just refuse to doubt.”