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Cardiff teen’s life inspired scholarship foundation

ENCINITAS — Jonathan Tarr was a typical local kid.
He grew up longboarding at Cardiff reef, and celebrated his Hawaiian heritage by taking hula lessons and learning how to play the ukulele.
Like most boys, Jonathan loved Legos.
He won first prize in a team competition at Horton Plaza while he was in elementary school.
Jonathan also distinguished himself as a gifted athlete.
“Jonathan was the player who actually hit the first official home run (at the new YMCA Ecke field),” wrote Mayor Dan Dalager several years ago. “I remain a perpetual Jonathan Tarr fan.” 
Jonathan enjoyed his three years at Oak Crest Middle School, but hit a snag when he transferred his sophomore year to La Costa Canyon High School.
“He got lost because it was such a big school,” said his mother, Robin Tarr. “He begged us to go Sunset High (Continuation) School because it was a smaller campus with smaller classes and he could get individualized attention.”
Jonathan also liked the idea of having a flexible schedule. This enabled him to get a job as a courtesy clerk at Vons on Santa Fe Drive through Sunset’s work study for credit program.
On July 2, 1998, Jonathan was killed when he was thrown from a vehicle driven by a friend. He would have been a senior at Sunset that fall.
Although he was not wearing a seatbelt, Robin Tarr was grateful to learn that no drugs or alcohol were involved.
The reach of Jonathan’s life was evident when 1,000 people amassed at the funeral held at St. John’s Catholic Church.
Robin Tarr was in the midst of a divorce at the time of Jonathan’s death, something that deeply affected him and most likely his performance in school. When the divorce became final, she moved into a smaller home and reassessed her life.
In 2001, she decided to honor her son by taking the Jonathan Tarr Memorial Fund, which started with $25 in 1998, and creating the Jonathan Tarr Foundation.
Today, the nonprofit provides scholarships to students at continuation, independent, magnet and charter schools as well as secondary high schools offering alternative education curriculum, including Advancement Via Individual Determination, or AVID, which is a college-readiness program targeted to under-served students.
Because of Jonathan’s Hawaiian heritage, the scholarship is also available to Pacific Islanders in secondary school.
Between 1999 and 2009, 243 students were awarded scholarships totaling $194,000.
Recommendations for scholarships are made by counselors and teachers.
“There are many reasons students end up in alternative high schools,” Robin Tarr said. “It could be the loss of a parent. That is huge in a child’s life.”
Other circumstances are that a child could be a caregiver for an alcohol or drug dependent parent or an ill parent who needs to be taken to doctor’s appointments. A student could have a medical issue them self that would require a flexible schedule.
“These teachers are so well-trained,” Robin Tarr said. “They understand what these kids are going through. Many teachers went through it themselves.”
  Scholarships were $500 when the foundation began and at one point grew to $1,000. Because of the economy they have dropped to $650.
Donations come from private individuals, companies and foundations.
“One dollar is the same as $5 because it all goes to students,” Robin Tarr said. “There’s no overhead. We send the money directly to the school for tuition, books and meals.”
Tarr goes through photos of scholarship recipients who have gone on to enjoy success in college with the pride of a mother. Students like Brenda Guzman, an AVID student from San Dieguito Academy, have become her extended family.
“Brenda asked me to do the hula to the ‘Hawaiian Wedding Song’ at her wedding in June,” Robin Tarr said. “She’s graduating from Hope International University with a degree in communications in December. She’s the first in her family to graduate from high school and also from college.”
For more information or to make a donation, call 760) 818-0462 or visit