Meet Mark Taylor, and he quickly reveals what might be called a checkered past, which began on Jones Island, S.C.
“I don’t know who my dad is,” Taylor said. “My mother and stepfather were functional alcoholics.”
Alcohol and crack became his drugs of choice, and after he graduated from high school, he did time in jail. It was there he found out about Serenity Farms in Hickory, which led him to Washington County.
The path of his 11 years of sobriety has not been a smooth one, but he’s been successful enough at navigating his way around potholes like job loss and near-eviction that may have thrown almost anyone off track.
“I was very leery,” said Taylor, 47, of Canonsburg. “Sometimes, I just wanted to give up.”
Because he overcame those obstacles and he’s now working a full-time job that includes benefits, Taylor won a Community Action of Pennsylvania self-sufficiency award, but he gives credit to many people who helped him along the way.
“Mark is very open about his past,” said his Community Action Southwest caseworker, Madeline Innis, who nominated Taylor for the statewide award, calling him “one of my superstars.”
Taylor would be the first to admit that many, including those who pay taxes to fund programs, have lent him a hand, and he offered the names of many.
Taylor was working as a building maintenance technician for Prime Plastics Inc., Washington, until 2011.
With both rent and child support to pay for a daughter, Katrina, 17, and a son, Jaiden, 5, he said Community Action was able to keep him from losing his apartment.
Taylor said Joyce Ellis, executive director of the LeMoyne Multicultural Center, “gave me a second chance, and I worked as a custodian there. She kept me in good spirits and in tune with the Lord.”
At the center’s food pantry, where he now volunteers, he said Marlene Yandel, Prestine Robinson, Thelma Russell and Betty Grinage provided him with “positive role models.” And when he was depressed about his circumstances, he received spiritual support from Pastor George Russell and his wife, Minister Sandra Russell, at the Temple of God Church, 505 East Hallam Ave., Washington.
Clyde Fragapane of CareerLink mentioned the commercial driver’s license program at Western Area Career and Technology Center, and the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, which helps, among others, those who are recovering from addiction, was willing to pay his tuition.
But first he had to brush up on his math skills to pass the entrance exam for the truck-driving program, and Jim Reedy from Community Action’s adult education program aided him.
It took a leap of faith to get Taylor into a rig. “I always had a fear of big trucks,” he said. “Everything was so large.”
But after he became accustomed to the cab, his view became, “when you’re sitting in that truck, you’re sitting on top of the world.”
A commercial driver’s license may be a ticket to employment, but Taylor also needed another component: a résumé that would seal the deal. Innis said she wanted Taylor’s résumé to answer three questions in a prospective employer’s mind: How did you save the company money? How did you make the company money? And how did you improve a process?
At Prime Plastics, Taylor collected plastic debris from the production floor and recycled it, estimating a $1,800 savings per year.
This information, Taylor said, plus interview skills he learned at Work Certified Academy, Washington, resulted in him being hired in December 2012 as a driver for Waste Management, where he strives for efficiency, safety and courteousness to customers. He said he was unable to attend the Community Action awards ceremony in Hershey because of his work schedule.
Just because he’s found a new job doesn’t mean Taylor is no longer involved with Community Action Southwest. He enrolled in Community Action Southwest’s matched-savings account program to save toward the purchase of a home. And as the first man to graduate from Community Action’s “Getting Ahead in a Just-Getting-By World,” he continues to attend to encourage students, just as others encouraged him.
“It’s a lot of individuals coming together,” Innis said, adding that Taylor “is accepting of what happened in the past but is trying to repair that. There is hope for the future.”