Community Builder: 'Mean Ol' teacher finds perfect recipe to bal - - Columbia, South Carolina

Community Builder: 'Mean Ol' teacher finds perfect recipe to balance school and service


The kids at Hopkins Middle School jokingly call her "Mean Ol' Miss Thomas," but once you find out what she does every Friday when she leaves school, you'll know Monica Holmes-Thomas is quite the opposite.

"I know behind my back they call me 'Mean Ol'' as in 'Mean Ol' Miss Thomas,' and I understand that. That's part of the charm," Holmes-Thomas said. "But at the end of the day, they want structure."

Over the past 26 years, the South Carolina and Richland County native has provided that structure to hundreds of students.

"I'm just a little bridge across their troubled water," Holmes-Thomas said.

With two educators as parents, Holmes-Thomas said teaching English-language arts to 8th graders is in her DNA.

"They can be exasperating sometimes because this is the hormonal 8th grade year, but nouns and verbs don't change, and I have to find ways to make sure they get it," Holmes-Thomas said.

Words are her passion and in her classroom at Hopkins Middle School, they are the focus. Holmes-Thomas calls the learning space her "Queendom."

"Because I'm queen and I reign," Holmes-Thomas said. "But more importantly, if I'm queen, that means they're my regal geniuses. They're the royalty that I have."

But on this particular day, Holmes-Thomas was in for a royal surprise. We got a little help from her son and some of her friends to present her with the Community Builder Award in partnership with Mungo Homes.

"This is one of the few times I'm actually speechless, which my students would appreciate," Holmes-Thomas said.

On weekends, she trades teaching for cooking. That's when she's known as the "Chili Lady." Every Friday, she leaves work to buy all the ingredients to cook up the hearty meal for the homeless.

"Monica, she's faithful. She comes every week. She cooks the chili on her own time and she's never missed a week," Resurrections volunteer Robbie Rorke said.

It's a mission that Holmes-Thomas began 10 years ago with Resurrections, a non-profit that does outreach work in the community. Every Saturday morning, the group holds a community feeding. The folks who nominated her say you can always find Holmes-Thomas there dishing out her chili with a smile.

"We see families out there. We see little kids. My biggest heartbreak is I've seen some of my former students out there in the line," Holmes-Thomas said.

That's what keeps her going back week-to-week. It's proof that behind the tough demeanor in the classroom, there's a soft heart for her students and those who line up for her weekly dish.

"Lots of love, lots of love," Holmes-Thomas said.

As a Community Builder, Holmes-Thomas gets $1,000 for a charity of her choice. She says it's going right back to Resurrections. That $1,000 donation will be made by the Michael J. Mungo Foundation.

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