IN HER cramped basement, standing at a workbench lit by a single desk lamp, Lizz Brown stares at the picture of the boy who was slain for his dirt bike, the picture of the boy who didn't get out of the way fast enough, the picture of the boy whose obituary was left blowing in the street.

Then, she paints.

Using only items from her local craft store, Brown, 57, of Northeast Philadelphia, has created more than 200 personalized memorial plaques for families of the city's dead children.

Brown enters peoples' lives at their lowest hour. She comes in quietly, humbly introduces herself and presents a small, wooden plaque.

The plaque isn't polished. It doesn't have fancy calligraphy and it doesn't honor an achievement.

It honors a life.

Brown buys unfinished, precut wood pieces from a craft store. She sifts through the bins of tiny doll-house accessories, looking for miniatures of her subjects' favorite items. If a boy loved fishing, she'll search for a tiny fishing pole to glue to the plaque. Sometimes it's a miniature version of a box of the victim's favorite cereal or her favorite board game.

With tubed craft paint or wooden letters, she spells out the victim's name, perhaps the victim's favorite word or phrase. Sometimes glitter is involved, sometimes it's not. Brown lets her heart decide those details.

But at the center of the plaque is always a picture. It's where she starts. It's the face that guides the rest of her creative process, she said.

She began creating the plaques in 2000, when she was moved to action by the stories of senseless deaths she read in the Daily News and the Inquirer.

Carefully, she cuts out the pictures of those lost. Intently, she jots down what they loved about life. And prayerfully, she waits for something all artists do - inspiration.

"If I read a story and it touches me, I make it," Brown said. "If I have a picture to look at, it's like an artist with a paintbrush."

The process of making the plaques is emotional for Brown.

"I talk to the child and ask them, 'Show me what you like. What are you feeling?' " she said. "Sometimes it's 2 or 3 a.m. and I'm in the basement painting. I can't sleep, it's just that drive. There's also a lot of times I come upstairs crying."

Brown, an emergency-room clerk for 25 years, works at Temple University Hospital ER now. She's seen many of the people she would end up making plaques for as they were wheeled in.

For years, Brown anonymously left the plaques at funerals. No one ever knew where or whom they came from.

Then, in 2005, Brown made a plaque to honor LaToyia Figueroa, a young pregnant woman murdered by her boyfriend.

Brown presented that plaque in person to Melvin Figueroa, LaToyia's father.

"I saw that there was someone on the streets that really did care," Melvin Figueroa said. "I was so surprised. This was a lady who had never seen me, had never known me in my life and she presented a plaque of my daughter to me. It broke my heart."

Figueroa convinced Brown to present her plaques in person. The two now travel to funerals across the city and to the homes of grieving families to offer their support.

Cheryl Joe, whose 17-year-old son, Donte Graham, was shot to death while visiting his old neighborhood on July 25, said her plaque from Brown was "an inspiration."

"It was really overwhelming," she said. "Words can't describe it, it was that beautiful. It's amazing when you realize there's someone out there that feels your pain and you never even knew it."

Graham's sister, Kristi Garrison, said she believes her brother's spirit was with Brown when she created the plaque.

"She has a gift - God has blessed her," Garrison said. "In today's world you just don't find people like that."

All expenses for the plaques come out of Brown's pocket. She estimates spending more than $300 a month on supplies.

Brown lost one of her own children, a 6-year-old son, to leukemia in 1979.

Before she made the plaques, Brown often became depressed over his death.

"When you lose a child, you never forget," she said. "Now, I don't have time to be depressed. Making the plaques is therapy for me."

She said she makes the plaques so families have something to hold onto besides obituaries.

"I can connect with the parents," she said. "I can say, 'I know how you feel.' It's that connection of death. It's not morbid, it's understanding."

Often, if a child's parents are separated, Brown will make plaques for both.

She said she's busier than ever, making at least three plaques a week. Whether more stories are touching her or there are just more senseless deaths in the city, Brown said her call to make the plaques "never stops."

Now, she also serves as a grief counselor to parents who have lost children, answering phone calls at "2, 3, 4 in the morning," and keeping a file of death anniversaries so she can send cards to the family.

"I call people every day just to check in," she said. "They cry and I cry too."

Joe and Garrison said they already consider Brown an important part of their lives.

"My mom calls her all the time, and so do I," Garrison said. "I've only known her for three weeks and I already love her."

After seven years and more than 200 plaques, Brown said she has received just four "thank you" cards. But she's OK with that, because, for her, it's not about thank-yous.

"It's about attempting to make others smile in their time of sorrow," she said. "This is a personal thing - from my heart to yours." *