WEST COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A local school resource officer wants to make her kids the best they can possibly be. She started a mentorship program at Saluda River Academy in West Columbia last year called "The Bobcat Boys,” and thanks to a donation from a very well-known police officer in Florida, she’s given each child the gift of an even playing field.
Officer India Taylor, the school resource officer at Saluda River Academy in West Columbia celebrated the start of year two of her program called “The Bobcat Boys.” Except this year, she added another group of boys and for the first time – a group of girls.
“Whether it’s the boys or the Bobcat girls you represent the whole program,” Officer Taylor said. “You don’t have to come after school, you don’t have to come early, we support our kids that are right here. Give them an ear, just an extra boost to do what it takes.”
Officer Taylor started the program in 2018 as a way to give students who both excel and struggle a place to belong; a brotherhood. She adopted the policy of putting every child in a shirt and tie for ten weeks, all of it donated to the program.
“It’s just that extra person to say ‘hey I care, I’m watching, I’m looking, I know you can be a better you,’” Officer Taylor said. “And I’m gonna be here to support that and help you become a better you.”
Eleven of the fifteen kids chosen for the program last year graduated. This year, fifteen boys and fifteen girls are taking part in the program and she hopes all of them make it to graduation. She told WIS that each child is selected for a different reason and the reasons are kept confidential. Some kids are regulars in disciplinary settings, while others are exceptional students. Some are in and out of foster homes and others come from broken homes. Regardless of where they come from, Officer Taylor makes sure every child has the exact same opportunity through the mentorship program. The boys wear shirts and ties and the girls, a string of pearls. It’s the beginning of pride that stems from the exterior. It’s one she’s seen move quickly to the interior.
“It’s not where you come from that’s where you’re going and that’s what we’re trying to do just make sure the kids keep their eyes on the prize and that they’re going in the same direction,” Officer Taylor said. “Doesn’t matter what starting direction they have as long as they’re all going up.”
Officer Taylor was nominated for the Greg Alia award last year through Serve and Connect last year, and while she didn’t win it, she said she was proud of her nomination. It also got her in front of Kassy Alia, Serve and Connect’s founder.
Alia loved what Officer Taylor was doing and vowed to support her mission. Alia reached out to Officer Bobby White of the Gainesville Police Department in Florida, who is known for a viral video where he responds to a call for service and ends up playing basketball with young men in the street. All of it captured on dashcam and shared to the world.
In the aftermath of his viral moment, he started a foundation called “The Basketball Cop Foundation,” which supports efforts like that of Officer Taylor’s around the country.
When Officer White heard that some of Officer Taylor’s kids were unable to wash their clothes at home, he immediately stepped in, donating a brand new washer and dryer to Saluda River Academy. This – Officer Taylor said – allows the kids who don’t have, to remain anonymous. It levels the playing field.
“There’s gonna be kids that have clean clothes now,” Officer White told WIS over the phone. “Regardless of where it comes from, it’s helping them… and then you have that second element of these kids know that a cop made that happen for them.”
Officer White’s foundation is rooted in bringing police and young people together to recreate the conversation around community policing. His work stems across multiple states, agencies, and ages. Officer Taylor knows this is the first step for many kids on the right path.
“We have a unique group of kids,” Officer Taylor said. “Each child is in the program for a different reason and we’re just here to support them and help them be successful as young men and now young women.”