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Episode 16: Copper Hills High School’s Mama Grizzly

She looks out for students who may not know where their next meal is coming from, who may need a warm winter coat, shoes, boots or students who simply need some support outside the classroom. In this episode of the Supercast we head to Copper Hills High School to meet someone affectionately known as “Mama Grizzly.” Milonie Taylor is the school’s homeless liaison and is constantly looking out for the basic needs of students facing unique challenges in life.


Audio Transcription

Superintendent:
Welcome to the Supercast. I'm your host, Superintendent Anthony Godfrey. She is affectionately known as Mama Grizzly and has a passion for looking out for students facing unique challenges in life. Challenges like worrying about where their next meal might come from today. We head out to Copper Hills High School to visit Milonie Taylor, the school's homeless liaison. Milonie gives us a look inside the Principal's Pantry, where students are finding the support. They need to stay in school to find success. But first, we talked to two students who say they are not only surviving, but thriving because of the support from Mama Grizzly and Copper Hills. So I'm here with two students at Copper Hills High School talking about the Principal Pantry. I'm surrounded by shelves of clothing and backpacks and school supplies and food and other household items lining the shelves in this little room. It's kind of odd shaped, the room I didn't really even know existed, although I've walked by this door many times. Tell us a little bit about how the store has benefited you, how the Principal's Pantry or store has benefited you.

Student:
Um, the Principal's Pantry is super amazing. When I first came in here, I was completely overwhelmed because I didn't know what to do. And then I got food and I got la winter coat and some winter clothes, which was super awesome. And she gave me a blanket, which is not really something that you think you need, but now it's amazing. There's lots of things in here that you don't really realize that you need, until you come in here and you think, "Oh yeah, I need some toiletries that I didn't even think that I needed or even hats and gloves. It's super awesome just to be able to have all of this available to you.

Superintendent:
So you're almost in a frame of mind of trying just to think about how little you can get by with, and you come in here and you realize some other things that could help.

Student:
Yeah, absolutely.

Superintendent:
How about you? What has your experience been?

Student:
At first when she pulled me aside and told me that I could be getting these benefits, I was really hesitant to accept them because I felt, even though my situation wasn't good, there was always somebody out there who had it worse who could benefit more. But after her coming and telling us that it really is for us and we are really the people who are meant to be receiving these items, it made me feel more comfortable accepting help. It helped, it helps a lot with food and clothing that I don't have and just getting food for the house.

Superintendent:
It's really great that you're able to come down here and get that help. Who are you referencing that's been helping you here?

Student:
Milonie Taylor. She's the one who comes down and helps all the time, but really just the community, as a whole. Especially during Christmas time, we get a bunch of donations and they really help out the whole community just by saying, "Oh you're one of those who needs help. So we're going to help you", which is super awesome.

Superintendent:
Is it hard when you know that you're in need and that you need help? Is it hard to ask or to feel comfortable getting that help?

Student:
It can be a little bit, because you have a lot of pride in yourself. I can make it on my own. I can, I do it. But then there just comes a point where you realize that you need help. And the community here is super awesome. So I wasn't scared. I knew everything would be confidential. And even my friends here that know what I'm going through, they're super helpful to me. I even have teachers that will give me food. Sometimes they're always checking up on me. I've had teachers that will contact me and say, "Hey, you weren't at school. Are you doing okay?" So yeah, it's really been amazing. At first you feel kind of alone. I don't have anyone with me. But then you realize that you're surrounded by people who are always there.

Superintendent:
It makes all the difference to be part of a community like this, where other students and teachers and Milonie, in particular, are looking out for you. No, of course. Tell me, not only has Milonie helped with providing you what you need, but she's also made you feel comfortable taking advantage of what's available.

Student:
Um, yeah, she is seriously like the second mom to all of us, the amount of effort and care that she puts forward. And how far she reaches, her heart goes beyond a lot of things.

Superintendent:
Where would you be without the help?

Student:
Honestly, I probably wouldn't come to school nearly as much. School gives me a gas card. I live 30 minutes away and so the gas card helps me so much to be able to come to school. Without this, I probably wouldn't really have a good community around me. I'd probably just try to stay away and try to figure things out on my own. I wouldn't be able to be as successful as I am now.

Superintendent:
Thank you. How do you, where do you feel you'd be without it the help?

Student:
I feel like I would be going down a road that is not very ideal for most teenagers. The Grizzly Mama would kind of take us out and take us under her wing in a way. It really helps a lot to know that somebody is looking out for you. And I could see myself very easily going in an opposite direction without it.

Superintendent:
And these are such important years, having the help right now in high school so that you can get a great foundation for other choices in your life going forward. I think the positive impact of this whole community is going to be long lasting and not just this community, but your efforts making the most of the opportunities given to you, which you're obviously doing. And I really applaud you for being willing to accept the help and making the most of the opportunities that you're given. Thank you. You both get to participate in Christmas for Kids. Are you looking forward to that? And what are your plans?

Student:
I'm super stoked when she told me about it. I don't know what to say. I'm so excited I don't even know what. I'm so happy. 'm going to go and I'm probably gonna go Christmas shopping, not only for me, but for my siblings as well. It'll be a lot of fun.

Superintendent:
How about you? Probably very similar to what she is doing, like trying to use the extra resources to help my siblings.

Superintendent:
And that's what I heard you say earlier is that you're not just taking care of yourself, but you're helping take care of your family as well, which makes it possible for you to be able to focus on your studies.

Student:
She does a really good job at making people feel comfortable with getting yourself what you need.

Superintendent:
Sounds like a lot of people could use a Milonie in their lives. You're fortunate to know her.

Student:
Absolutely over care. We call her our Grizzly Mama, because she really is. She calls us down every week. She makes sure we're all taken care of. And she really just connects with us all the time and it's super amazing.

Superintendent:
Nobody takes better care of people than the Grizzly Mama. I can tell you that. So, okay. Thanks, both of you for talking with me. Stay with us. When we come back, we hear from Milonie Taylor, better known as Mama Grizzly at Copper Hills.

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Superintendent:
Welcome back. Now it's time to talk to Mama Grizzly herself, Milonie Taylor. What does it mean to you to get to work with these students?

Milonie:
I love that I can help. I have two boys of my own and I can't imagine if they were in this situation and didn't have help. This school is so amazing. Our community's amazing. Our administration, our counselors, the teachers, it's just a huge grizzly family and we take care of our Cubs. Whatever we have to do, that's what we're going to do within our limits. And the programs that we have available are fantastic. The gas card so they have transportation, the food, the clothing, we have shoes, we have backpacks, we have school supplies. What we have is pretty much unlimited, and they can get whatever they need without question. And I want them to feel comfortable. I don't want anyone ever to fill feel bad or feel like they're taking from someone else or they're not deserving because we're all deserving at something or another in our life. I've had times in my life where I've had to live on Top Ramen. You know,  young starving college students, so I know. And even if they have to eat ramen, they're getting something. And so I love that.

Superintendent:
This is a true investment in the future.

Milonie:
Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. These kids can even just pay it forward. We've helped you, take this and then go pay it for it. And I have had students that I've helped in the past years that have brought stuff in. They brought their dresses, they brought their clothing. They've brought their slightly used clothes and shoes and coats to help another student that might be in need. Our custodians got all of these school supplies, so no one has to be without school supplies.

Superintendent:
There's a multiplier effect. Once you start helping, then everyone pitches in and it strengthens the community and the momentum is really something that just doesn't stop.

Milonie:
No, it doesn't stop. This is why we have piles of clothing here that I need to get put away because the community knows. Now the teachers all know, the community knows. My neighbors across the street will bring me clothing. I had a lady come in yesterday that brought me three beautiful prom dresses that she wanted to donate. They're sitting in my closet. Someone can use these. We have a huge community here, of caring people and everybody's involved. And like I said, these are my Cubs and I gotta take care of them. And I have great backup. It's not just me. I mean, it takes a village and we have an amazing village at Copper Hills.

Superintendent:
Taking care of other people is a really important part of education and the Copper Hills community.

Milonie:
Very, very, very important. I mean, I think that's, you know, it's a joy for me to be able to come to work every day because I know there's somebody that I get to help and there's somebody's life that I get to impact. Even if it's a notebook or pencils, I mean, I've had kids in here that are crying because we have a bottle of shampoo for them. They can't wash their hair, or have a comb or a brush. It's amazing. The impact just something that we take for granted every day, that we don't think anything of, that if you don't have it and you don't realize it, it's amazing how much it helps.

Superintendent:
Understanding the need the way you do helps. You do such a great job of making kids feel comfortable, accepting the help.

Milonie:
Yes. And I think it stems back to my best friend, our senior year got kicked out of her house and was living in her car for a while. This was quite a few years ago and I just remember what she went through. I worked at Godfather's pizza and she worked at Smith's Food King, and I would get toilet paper from Godfather's so she would have toilet paper. And I don't think people realize that. And so, I was directly impacted at that age where these kids are, and I know the struggles that she went through, and the help that she needed. And there wasn't any programs like this. So the fact that we can help them and we can help them stay positive, we can help them stay on track, help them stay in school. That's my most important thing because your school will start to suffer because that's the first thing that starts to go. You got to work extra hours, you go buy extra things. You have to work till midnight. You can't get up and be to school at 7:00 AM.

Superintendent:
Right? Well, the world needs a lot more Milonies.

Milonie:
Thank you.

Superintendent:
When do we need a lot more villages like Copper Hills? Describe the inventory here for us.

Milonie:
We have an amazing inventory. We have two separate rooms. We have clothing and school supplies, coats, shoes, backpacks, sleeping bags, which we unfortunately have had to have kids use, little two man tents and, gloves, hats in this basic area here, everything stacked and labeled by size so they can get to it. All of these supplies you see right here is everything that's been donated within the last month or so. We are now getting a stack washer and dryer in here. The electricians have been in here working so it's been hard for me to get in here and get it put away. So it's a good mess because it means that we have lots of staff.

So in this room, in here in this area, we have lotion, shampoo, deodorants. Toothpaste, toothbrushes, we have feminine products. Our canned food area. We don't have perishable items, for obvious reasons. Cereals, mouthwash, dental floss, canned food items. We also have cleaning supplies. Also have just clothing. I've had a young lady that came in that just started to go to church and she needed some church clothes. So she came in and got some church clothes.

My cute mom is retired. So she helps me come organize. She needs something to do. She went to Kohl's and got hangers donated so that everything's on a hanger, everything size. So I want the kids to feel like they're truly shopping.

Superintendent:
It's pretty clear in talking with Milonie Taylor that supporting students in their everyday needs and getting them to graduation is her passion. If you're not convinced, all you have to do is see her in action with students.

My most important thing is to make sure we get you graduated and that you're happy and that you're a contributing members of society and that we can help you get through. And we've had a hundred percent graduation rate with our McKinney Vento students for the last four years and you get to contribute to that this year. And so I'm really proud of both of you. Where we would be without it. I definitely don't think I would be graduating or on the path that I am now to make plans for my future. As I've mentioned with you before.

Milonie:
Girlfriend. Yeah. I can't have you ruin my numbers.

Superintendent:
Thanks for your time. And thanks for everything you're doing. We deeply appreciate the work. Milonie Taylor and others like her do, putting their hearts and souls into helping students facing unique challenges in life.

Thank you for tuning into the Supercast. We invite you to subscribe using Apple, Google, or your favorite podcasting app. There's a new episode of the Supercast available every Thursday. Remember, education is the most important thing you will do today. We'll see out there. [inaudible].

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