The Taylor Made Foundation extends its arms to the less fortunate through the vision and determination of its founder, who emerged from homelessness and domestic abuse with the desire to help others rise above circumstances that are often out of their control.
by Terri Webster
Most people could not imagine being homeless at the age of 17, but that was Darnell Taylor’s reality. She never thought she would have to rely on friends while moving from house to house and trying to complete high school. Ordinary seniors look forward to the prom, graduation and preparing for college. Not Taylor.
While homeless in New York, Taylor lived in survival mode. She did not attend her senior prom and almost missed graduation. Despite all the obstacles, Taylor received her high school diploma in 1986. She moved in with her boyfriend soon after and started college. Vulnerable and without another support system in place, she suffered through domestic abuse. When she was five months pregnant with her first daughter, her boyfriend kicked her in the midsection and caused her to fall down a flight of stairs.
“When I got up, I ran and ran and ran,” Taylor said, “and I never went back.” Even in the middle of unspeakable hardships, she never lost her desire to help others. “Community service has always been in my heart,” Taylor said. “It’s always been a part of me.”
“My dream to help people started getting bigger while my budget grew shorter. Finally, someone suggested I start a non-profit.”Darnell Taylor
With the help of her mother and best friend, she managed to resettle and complete her college degree through an online program with DeVry University. Taylor graduated summa cum laude, with a 3.94 GPA. She accepted a job working in the mailroom with the Department of Justice and moved into a place of her own. Thirty-three years later, Taylor now works as an information technology specialist with the DOJ. She made Covington her home in 2009.
“Every time I came to visit my mom and brother who lived here,” Taylor said, “it felt like home and I never wanted to leave.”
As she continued to work and focused on raising her daughters, struggling families and young women gravitated towards Taylor for counsel and support. Her deepest valleys were soon transformed into the highest of highs, as she utilized her past experiences to assist those in similar situations. Taylor sought ways to help others and even used her personal finances to cover the needs of homeless students, women trapped in cycles of domestic abuse and at-risk families.
“My dream to help people started getting bigger while my budget grew shorter,” she said. “Finally, someone suggested I start a non-profit.”
With the support of a growing team of volunteers, Taylor began her search for others who shared the same passions. They developed a board of directors, and from this small group of like-minded people, the Taylor Made Foundation was born. A community-based 501c3 non-profit organization, it commits to serving homeless youth and families in need while helping them become independent and permanently housed. Events and projects are tailored to meet the unique and varying needs of those involved.
“Deck the Halls”—the first event organized by the Taylor Made Foundation—focused on the Benton House, an assisted living and resident nursing facility. Volunteers sang Christmas carols, built gingerbread houses with elderly residents and made wreaths for their doors. Families were blown away by the response of their loved ones. Word spread, giving rise to more opportunities.
One of Taylor’s favorite projects was “Once Upon a Prom,” which was spawned by the harsh reality of not being able to attend her senior prom. It offered participants the prom-shopping experience, along with the opportunity to get their hair, nails and makeup done. They wore dresses, shoes and jewelry. Due to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, proms were canceled, so the Taylor Made Foundation team held an event at Turner Lake Park.
“It was beautiful,” Taylor said. “We worked with girls from homeless shelters and foster care. It was so humbling, and we felt so happy to be able to put this on.”
The latest mission from the foundation sprang into existence in the spring. “For My Dorm” provided graduating high school seniors who were either facing housing insecurity, in foster care or from low-income families with all the essential items needed to settle into their college dorms. The foundation received donations that included bedding, kitchenware and other necessities. In fact, organizers were able to give every student a microwave and a television. One student in the program who had earned a 4.0 GPA was rewarded with a MacBook Air and earphones. The bulk of the funding for the project was provided by the community and private donors.
“Stuff just showed up at my door,” Taylor said. “We’re able to do all that we do because the community comes together. We’re most grateful for all the support. At the end of the ‘For My Dorm’ event, parents were crying, students were crying. My heart is still full from that event.”
Next on the Taylor Made team’s to-do list: developing an 11-month education component to its program. The curriculum will include teaching financial literacy, banking, checking, preparation for college, how to apply for scholarships and more. The foundation plans to offer follow-up counseling to ensure recipients have all the tools they require.
“It felt like we were giving them stuff and then sending them on their way unprepared [and without] the life skills needed to continue to be successful,” Taylor said. “We want to be able to have success stories. We want them to have their own success stories.”
Taylor draws her inspiration from above.
“I always pray for direction and look for confirmation,” she said. “God shows up in ways I did not ever think of. My story is my testimony. It’s what drives me to do what I do today. My reward has always been to see other people happy, to see them smile.”
Taylor plans to retire from the DOJ in 2022 so she can put all of her focus on the foundation.
“This is my purpose,” she said, “and I want to give it my 100% attention.”
For more on the Taylor Made Foundation and its projects, or if you wish to make a donation or learn about volunteer opportunities, visit TaylorMadeFoundation.com. You can also reach the foundation via email at email@example.com or by phone at 470-499-4628.