By Nancy Winckler-Zuniga
Originally published in The Florida Times-Union
Taylor’s vehicle and several other cars were making a left turn at Blanding Boulevard and Argyle Forest Road when another driver came through the intersection, hitting his car broadside. Weeks in the hospital, therapies and time have healed his injuries somewhat but the overall effect still lingers.
“The accident almost killed me,” Taylor said. “I stopped working for three months.”
Retired, “working” for Taylor was the five days weekly he spent volunteering with Baptist Hospital South, Chimney Lakes Elementary School and Tutor Time Childcare Center on Old St. Augustine Road, his United Way ReadingPals site.
“I didn’t let it stop me,” Taylor said. “Before the accident, I used to sit in a kid chair, but I can’t anymore.”
Taylor had to make additional adjustments, letting go of any volunteer work that involves lifting, being careful about twisting and walking. For months, he had to take alternate transportation to the child-care center because he wasn’t able to drive. Instead of giving up, he has found others ways to help; he is instrumental in the new volunteer training process and tracks volunteer engagement data.
“I have to do it,” Taylor said. “I have a big heart, I guess. When I was young, the community watched out for kids.”
Growing up an only child in Baltimore, Taylor was one of those children who was watched over by the community.
“I was alone,” Taylor said. “I was what they call a ‘latchkey’ child. People in my neighborhood knew my mom’s schedule, knew my father’s. I was an only child, but I had my best buddy. We would skate to the house and play games; we had a lot of fun together. I had a lot of things other kids didn’t have.”
As an adult, Taylor began to work with the Baltimore Housing Authority, learning firsthand of the difficulties many children in his community faced, sometimes helping find homes for children who needed foster care.
“When I worked with the Adoption Review Board in Baltimore, there were others that helped,” Taylor said. “Eddie Mae Fentriss — she was instrumental in my life with kids. She raised more than 40 children for the state of Maryland. She and her husband went out on a limb; there wasn’t anyone left out. If there was a loaf of bread, everyone got a slice.”
Following that example, through United Way’s ReadingPals initiative, Taylor is now trying to reach the children he can through numbers, letters and writing their names to get the little prizes he brings them. He worries about the children who don’t get it, who need the attention, too.
“I always tell the kids,” he said, “that someday they’ll be CEOs of a Fortune 500 company.”