Taylor, SAU’s campus and community welfare coordinator, was recently honored by the City of Magnolia with its Citizen of the Month Award. Though recognized primarily for her contributions to Making Magnolia Blossom, a group of volunteers working to beautify the city, Taylor is involved in numerous other projects. She views volunteerism as an outreach of SAU and part of her personal ministry.
“I have always loved volunteering,” she said. “It can be challenging, but it is so worthwhile.”
Dr. Trey Berry, president of SAU, lauded Taylor for her efforts. “Her pure heart for volunteerism and student engagement is single-handedly changing the culture of our campus,” he said. “She has a vision for inspiring our students to give back to their communities and to each other. She exemplifies all that the award represents.”
Taylor, who started working at SAU in 2013 and is an alum of 1983, points out the importance of others in her work.
“If nobody else wants to do it, it’s not going to happen,” she said. “There are so many people who like to read to others, or cook, or paint, or mow grass. I plug in my talents where they are needed. I can do the administration, I’m detail-oriented, and I love figuring out how to do things, but none of what I do would work if not for the people who get involved in each program.”
She applies her professional and academic background in social work to volunteering in the community. “It defines my ministry and my relationships. One of the most important things I tell people about volunteering is they should find something they love, and do it, and get their family and friends involved because that makes it fun.”
To maximize the volunteers on campus and in the community “for the sake of volunteerism,” Taylor reaches out to SAU freshmen. “I talk to the Freshman Seminar classes and inform them of all the opportunities available for them to get their five required hours of community service in the fall,” she said. “They usually will hear something that grabs their interest. If not, they can call me and we’ll talk some more and usually find something for them to do.”
Taylor distributes a list of 40 service areas, including CCAPS Animal Shelter, Southern Christian Mission, Mulerider Kids College, Boys & Girls Club, Angel Tree, Columbia County Senior Meal Services, Special Olympics and Making Magnolia Blossom.
“There are so many areas that need help,” she said. “If these students can go visit people in nursing homes, or help socialize animals, or gather food, or mow a lawn, they get can their hours and see firsthand how a program is run. That’s something they can take back to their own communities.”
She said there are several needs that sometimes go unfulfilled for lack of volunteers. “Food insecurity is an issue. We have a lot of children who don’t know when their next meal is coming. That includes some University students, too, when their money runs out but they’re working a job and are maybe still paying rent.”
“It can be something as simple as volunteering at CCAPS to walk dogs that need homes. Puppies need to be socialized before they can be adopted,” Taylor said.
Churches and other civic organizations also need volunteers to assist with meal programs and transportation. “Volunteering is a great way for students to make connections, put their skills to use and make themselves known to potential employers,” she said. “If a student does a good job as a volunteer, it might result in a written letter of recommendation from someone they work with in a volunteer program. Often, students find that by volunteering, they’ve found a career path they never thought about before.”
The chance to volunteer is available to all – students, faculty and staff as well as community members. “I like thinking of myself as a clearinghouse of ideas,” Taylor said. “I send out all-user emails, I text people, I call them, anything I can do to put a person together with an opportunity. I chase people down, I shake the bushes. I sleep better at night knowing I have enough people!”
Logistics are often a challenge. “Sometimes if I’m not actually helping dig that hole or move that piece of furniture, I’m going after water or a set of tools or getting paint transported – making things happen so the volunteers can make things happen.”
“I never know when God might give me an opportunity to serve somebody,” Taylor said. “I feel like that’s what I’m called to do. It’s a chance to walk the walk as well as talk the talk. That’s the magic formula.”
Though involved in almost too many projects to count, Taylor is perhaps proudest of MMB. “That came about because we wanted to see how we could change the landscape of Magnolia,” she said. MMB was founded by Aaron Street, assistant dean for integrated marketing and media relations at SAU, and his wife, Dr. Viktoriya Street, associate professor of biology. An organizing committee grew to include many other faculty, staff and students from the University. Taylor got involved on the administrative side of things, working to get the campus and community involved.
MMB kicked off with its inaugural Big Splash Saturday on Oct. 25, 2014, bringing around 500 community members together to clean up Main Street. Volunteers included local junior high and high school students, city officials, and business teams. Trees were removed, weeds mown, lots cleared, sidewalks edged, ditches burned off, and litter removed. The group still holds two Big Splash events each year.
“It’s exciting to me to see a dream come to fruition,” Taylor said. “It can be very taxing on the brain to make sure there are enough supplies, to get people moved around and in the right spot. The logistics can be a challenge each and every time. But it’s always worth it. That’s what makes you feel good – overcoming challenges.”
To find out more about volunteer opportunities, call 870-904-4299 or 870-235-4922.