“Hey dad, just like in church.”
Those were the last words of Drew Michael Taylor before he died on June 13, 2006. His final few memories of life were carefree.
“That morning, he played golf with me. … He played wiffle ball,” Randy Taylor said. “He cracked an egg with one hand and made an omelet with his mom. Playing sports with dad. Cooking with mom. Just being a really nice kid.”
The family was vacationing in the Outer Banks. The hour before the accident was spent waiting in line to catch the resort trolley to the beach. To pass the time, they greeted passersby with a cheerful “Good morning.” That was when Drew made the connection to their church in Shippensburg and their work as volunteer greeters. No one could have predicted what happened next.
Tired of the wait, the Taylors climbed into the van and headed for the resort, but the adults missed the exit and had to double back a mile. Only the family never made the mile.
A logging truck lost control of its load and crossed the center line. In the resulting crash, Drew died, his mother Marcie was seriously hurt and older sister Lauren was traumatized by proximity. She was seated right next to her kid brother.
Their story could have easily ended there, with grief and tragedy. But Randy and Marcie Taylor would not let that happen. They were among the 20 individuals and groups honored Thursday during the fourth annual Champions for Better Health celebration in Carlisle.
Their organization, the Drew Michael Taylor Foundation, was named the nonprofit of the year by the Partnership for Better Health. The goal of the Champion awards is to recognize those in the community who advance the health and wellness of others throughout the region.
“He was an amazing little boy, all sweetness and goodness,” Marcie Taylor said. “We always say three and a half years can’t be enough. Drew has to continue to make an impact in this world.”
The Taylors turned grief into action and established a foundation that today provides grief education and support to other families coping with loss. Their new center in downtown Shippensburg has expanded its core services, which include grief support groups, community workshops, educational programming and a grief and loss lending library.
Every day, the couple carry forth the name Drew Michael Taylor, giving a brief life extra meaning, not letting an end be a finale. Over 150 local families have been served through their Drew’s Hope support group series. The foundation has helped people in Cumberland, Franklin, Adams, Fulton and Dauphin counties as well as in Maryland and West Virginia.
“We knew we could never answer the ‘why’ of the accident,” Marcie Taylor said. “So we decided we wanted to allow Drew’s memory to live on through the good work we can do in his name.”
The selection process for Champions for Better Health began in February with an advertising campaign aimed at encouraging the public to nominate volunteers, health professionals, youth groups, nonprofit organizations, philanthropists and businesses who play a vital role.
A committee of volunteers screened the nominations and selected the winners and honorable mentions that were announced Thursday across those six categories. The Community Impact Award and Making a Difference Award were given to champions who went above and beyond in their public service to improve the health of the community.
“Whether tackling a tough issue like hunger, opioid addiction or the needs of at-risk youth, these outstanding individuals recognized something more had to be done,” said Becca Raley, executive director of the partnership. “They invested their talents and resources in developing new solutions. We’re celebrating their outstanding generosity and inspirational community service.”
This year the partnership presented the Cumberland County Court system with the Community Impact Award. The two-part award went to two specialty branches within the system: the Adult Treatment Court overseen by Judge Albert Masland and the new Opioid Intervention Court overseen by Judge Jessica Brewbaker.
Bradon Toomey was among those who represented the intervention court Thursday. He is a specialty court coordinating attorney with the county public defender’s office.
“It is great to have this program recognized for as young as it is,” said Toomey, adding the Champions Award gets the word out on a court that is doing positive work in the community not only for program participants but their family members.
The voluntary court links nonviolent offenders with probation and monitoring supports, drug detoxification, medication to reduce drug cravings and minimize relapse and referrals to a regular treatment provider.
Active since 2006, the treatment court provides an 18-month program where offenders with serious drug and alcohol issues and stiff jail sentences have frequent contact with Masland, parole and probation officers and treatment providers. Upon graduating, participants may petition the court to reduce or, in some cases, expunge their charges.
“If we just send them to prison, they do the time, they come out and still have a drug problem,” Masland said. “These courts are part of a continuum of service that really is helping not just the participants but the county and the community because we are returning people to the community who can be productive and would otherwise not be.”