News & Events
A Chat With … Tammy Taylor
- December 6, 2016
- Posted by: Shepherds
- Category: Mentor News
DARIEN — The events of Sept. 11, 2001 affected people in different ways. For Darien resident Tammy Taylor, it made her want to give back, starting in her own community.
“9/11 really rattled all of us,” said Taylor, an Illinois native who moved to Darien with her husband in 1991 after he got a job in New York City. “I thought you live in this insular community and I had no idea people could hate so much and that really affected me.”
Shortly after the terror attacks, the president of Kolbe Cathedral High School presented at Taylor’s church and mentioned the Shepherds program. Shepherds is a nonprofit organization that partners with Kolbe Cathedral, as well as Notre Dame High School in West Haven. Shepherds pays for inner-city students to go through high school at these schools and provides them with a mentor and academic support to help guide them through their four years there.
After the service, Taylor went up and asked for more information on the program, before going home with the idea of being a mentor in mind. “I thought ‘OK, I can’t do anything about hatred in the world, but I can do a small thing at home in my own backyard,” she said. “Bridgeport is right here. People don’t realize how poor of a city it is and how many people there are struggling.”
So Taylor got involved as a mentor with Shepherds at Kolbe Cathedral. She took her first student in the fall of 2002 and is now mentoring her fourth student. She meets with her student once a month and connects with them once a week through phone, email or text. She’s also gone above and beyond and done things like taken her students to visit colleges where they’ve been accepted.
“You’re supplying them with another set of eyes and ears,” said Taylor. “You’re a cheerleader. If they’re struggling in class, the mentor’s role is to find out why. Much like you do with your own kid, [you] see that they seek the necessary ways to get help, teach them how to advocate for themselves. If they’re not doing well in a class, it’s the rare kid that will stay behind — at thirteen — and say to the teacher ‘I didn’t really understand, can you take some time and explain it to me?’ It really takes an adult saying ‘you don’t understand? You need to go to the teacher, you need to ask the questions, you need to advocate for yourself, you have every right as a student to understand what’s being taught.”
Taylor’s experience raising three of her own kids and volunteering at their schools helped prepare her for this. But her personal history played a role in her mentoring as well. Taylor was the first woman in her family to finish college, graduating from Boston College with a degree in english/communications. Like many of her students, Taylor had to pay her own way for her degree and felt a lot of pressure to succeed.
“I had to take out loans and work after school and so did my brothers,” Taylor said. “We were expected to get good grades. Our family was determined that we would all go to school. At times, I was very frustrated because my parents would be greatly disappointed if we didn’t put in 100 percent in school,” she said. “Like many of the students, I was annoyed. It was annoying to have these expectations. I know that part of it.”
But unlike many of her students, Taylor has never felt the pressures of growing in poverty or in a new country. Taylor’s students have faced problems like homelessness and losing family members to gang violence and almost all live at or below the poverty line. Many come from single family households where the parent works several jobs, or the student works after school to contribute to family expenses. Her job is to hear them out and to make sure they have an adult in their life who’s listening. When one of the students she was mentoring was bouncing around from home to home, Taylor called the school to let them know and eventually, the student’s coach took her in. It’s situations like this that epitomize the reality of what the teenagers in the program are dealing with daily.
“A lot of other programs look for the students that go on to Harvard or Princeton or the stories you see in the movies,” she said. “Shepherds wanted to serve the B,C student, the middle of the pack or a slightly struggling student who has potential to do well if put in the right setting. Those are the kids that fall through the cracks. A lot of times the superstars make it anyways. But like with anything, the average Joe or the slightly below average Joe struggles the hardest. The mission of this was to take that kid who isn’t a superstar, but has this potential, has disadvantages in their lives. Those are the kids that they serve.”
So far, the mentors make a difference. Taylor has seen her students go on to college and some even grad school.“Overall, I think at the end,when you see those kids walk up and get their diploma and cheering, many of them are the first in their families to go to college, first to graduate high school…it’s worth it,” said Taylor.