Monika Griner, our State Agency Area Consultant serving School Nutrition Programs in Southwest Georgia shared this heartwarming encounter from the field. She titled it "I Met a Hero Today", telling the story of the resilience of Georgia School Nutrition Professionals.
You'll want to read to the end.
I met a hero today when I met Renee Courson with Clinch County School Nutrition. Renee is the cafeteria manager at Clinch County High School, and she is nothing short of a miracle. She is a survivor who has a guardian angel named Kit-Cat. Today, I want to share their remarkable story as a reminder to us all how fragile life can be.
Renee started with Clinch Co. School Nutrition in 2010 as a substitute kitchen assistant. She advanced quickly and was hired full time, advancing forward to cashier, assistant manager and most recently to the title of manager. Renee’s genuine personality and love for her job are evident from “hello”. She is rich in School Nutrition heritage and her roots run very deep in Clinch County as noted while she named off numerous family and friends who had either prepared school meals for her growing up or are part of her staff today. Renee speaks about her job and the people around her with such passion and admiration, her spirit is contagious, and her smile lights up the room. “I love my job, I love my kids, this is the most rewarding job I have ever had", stated Renee.
But, on June 24, 2018, Renee’s world as she knew it took a sharp turn down a path she never expected. It was early morning and since it was summer break Renee was sleeping past the normal 5:00am wake-up call that is the average bolt and go time in the world of food production. But let me back up and introduce Kit-Cat. A few days before June 24th a small little gray cat showed up at her house, hungry, tired, looking for safe haven. Renee was not bashful when sharing that she and her husband were “dog people”, cats really had no place among the tribe. Regardless of their reluctance to embrace this stray, the little gray fuzz ball was diligent in her determination to make their house her home. Eventually, the food bowl was offered, and Kit-Cat joined the family. But yet, she was still not the family favorite among the canines.
On the morning of June 24th, Renee woke up to find Kit-Cat on her chest, meowing and scratching in a feverish attempt to wake her. At first, she was startled to find her there, (still not sure how she got in), and even more startled to find her house filled with smoke. She and her husband immediately knew something was wrong, seriously wrong and Renee reacted as most of us would…she ran towards the door and opened it. At that moment, her memory stops. She later found out that the fire exploded towards her once the door opened. She was dragged from the burning home by her husband who too suffered from serious cuts and burns. She was airlifted to an area hospital and then later transferred to Shands Burn Unit where she remained on the ventilator for 14 days. She has blurred images of watching her house burn as they loaded her into the helicopter, but those images pale in comparison to what she saw when she awoke in ICU. Renee had second and third-degree burns to her face and arms and her beautiful long dark hair had been burned as well, which had to be cut off. She continued her journey of recovery over the next several weeks and much to everyone’s surprise returned to work slowly in August, 2018. “I had to move past the trauma of the loss and my injuries. My family lost everything we had. My job and the things in my office were the only 'normal' I had left. I had to return to hold on”, stated Renee.
Renee was not sure if Kit-Cat made it out alive; sadly the other family pets perished in the fire. However, upon her return from the hospital, Renee was greeted by that determined little gray cat who in a heroic blast went from the bottom of the food chain to the queen of the castle.
Her tiny voice was just enough to wake Renee and her husband in time. She is a hero, just like her owner. Renee is a hero to many! Linda Moore, Clinch County Director stated, “Renee is a dedicated employee and mother figure to all her 'babies' which she affectionately calls all students who pass through the serving lines. She is here to serve the students in every way she can. In 2018 Renee was nominated as the Support Staff Employee of the Year. Her most famous words are 'Love ya and appreciate ya'. Words that she offers daily, with a sincere tone and without hesitation."