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Taylor Richardson Aims for the Stars Through STEM

February 23, 2015

Taylor Richardson, 11, wears her blue astronaut jumpsuit and carries a bag of science demonstrations to share with a class of pre-k ReadingPals students. They eagerly sit at attention while she pulls out sparkling blue “flubber” from a Ziploc bag.

Taylor embodies “Ad astra per aspera,” which is Latin for, “Through hardships to the stars.” Her mother, Latonja, who has a doctorate in health science, was laid off last year. This resulted in the loss of their home, but Latonja refused to let it affect the quality of her daughter’s education.

Taylor Richardson, 11, and her mom, Latonja, show United Way of Northeast Florida President and CEO Michelle Braun the "flubber" she learned to make at science camp.
Taylor and her mom, Latonja, look at the “flubber” she learned to make at science camp.

“I drive 46 miles a day to make sure she can attend a school that will help her meet her goals,” Latonja said. She also manages Taylor’s tight schedule of tutoring, triathlon training, Girl Scouts, and, yes, a little free time.

At the age of four, Taylor was not reading and barely speaking. Seven years later, she is one of the youngest children ever accepted to Space Camp. After overcoming bullying at school and managing her own struggles with ADHD—a diagnosis which Taylor says makes her “abundantly different and happily divine”—Taylor truly is shooting for the stars.

She is part of countless extracurricular activities, all of which help her pursue a goal of one day becoming an astronaut. She hopes to attend a magnet middle school where she can continue her studies of Chinese, a skill which will prepare her to work with the country she says will make it to Mars.

Taylor Richardson, 11, reads about Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman in space, to a group of pre-kindergarten students.
Taylor Richardson reads about Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman in space, to a group of pre-kindergarten students.

Taylor recently took the initiative to collect over 175 books for United Way’s ReadingPals initiative, a program that pairs committed adults with four-year-old students to provide an extra hour of hands-on reading time each week. Her mission before making it to space is to educate children on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields and the exciting opportunities ahead. Her efforts will help children build their home libraries and provide access to additional reading opportunities.

ReadingPals was a meaningful choice for Taylor when she sought to collect books for children. Even with employment transitions, Taylor’s mother has been a long-time United Way donor. She has passed along this philanthropic spirit to Taylor, who regularly gives out of her allowance, signing each pledge with her name and a smiley face.

“United Way has done so much for Taylor and for me,” Latonja said. “No matter what, we can still help others.”