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There’s No Reining in This Student Leader


Once upon a time, there was a little girl of just 4 years old who lost her foot in a tragic accident involving a power lawn mower.

And because of those grisly circumstances, you’d be forgiven for assuming that she didn’t live happily ever after. That she only suffered. And grieved. And made excuses. And faded into a sad and lonely landscape.

But not Taylor Jones, now a senior at Rockford High School, who dusted herself off almost as though nothing had ever happened. And chose instead to soar. And who continues to pen chapters steeped in love and hope and a heart for others.

She’s the latest recipient of the Judy Lloyd Student Leadership Award, a tribute presented each year by the Grand Rapids YWCA to those who demonstrate the type of qualities that defined the late Ms. Lloyd herself – humor, verve, compassion and more.

To visit with her in the dining room of the home she shares with parents, Mark and Donna; sister, Kalyn; and brother, Joel is to immediately sense that this is someone who is fully engaged.

Easy smile? Check. Eye contact? Check. The ability to listen and willingness to ponder and an affinity to share? Check, check and double-check.

And you come away thinking this: That guess what, meeting young adults like Taylor Jones is proof that the world should go on.

Her mother smiles. “Taylor has always been someone who can laugh at herself.” And then she giggles herself and shares that in the right situation – at a barn party, perhaps – you might find her daughter challenging someone to an Indian leg-wrestling contest.

Taylor Jones and her mentor, Shelly Fox, assistant equine program coordinator at the Equest Center for Therapeutic Riding
Taylor Jones and her mentor, Shelly Fox, assistant equine program coordinator at the Equest Center for Therapeutic Riding

Serving Special Children

When Taylor’s not contributing at home, or attending to her 3.9-ish grade-point average, or signing up as a dual-enrolled student for more classes through Ferris State University, you are likely to find her astride, or beside, or at least near a horse.

That’s because one of her special gifts places her at the Equest Center for Therapeutic Riding a few miles west of her home. That’s where, at age 14, she became the youngest person ever to be hired as part of their staff and contribute to the mission there, which is to serve children – many with special needs – who develop strengths through the therapeutic gifts that riding and caring for horses offers.

Taylor’s employment actually followed in the wake of her insistence at age 11 that she be allowed to volunteer there. Or was it age 10. Nine? Suffice to say it was while others her age were barely awake to similar ops.

“What I believe may be Taylor’s most valuable asset is the way she shows such great intuition in dealing with people from various walks of life,” Kathy Ryan, executive director of the Center, wrote in nominating Taylor for the YWCA Tribute Award. “She possesses an amazing ability to blend with all personality types, and has a way of interacting with people that immediately makes them feel at ease – as if they had known her all of their life.”

Some 12 years earlier, however, those virtues were just beginning to surface. Taylor doesn’t remember much of the trauma she endured, but history reminds her that she approached her father aboard a lawn mower going in reverse. He never saw her coming.

The severed foot went into a bucket, and accompanied her on a trip via Aero Med to a local hospital, where re-attachment was not an option.

Taylor spent two weeks in pediatric intensive care, then was released, but only so she could return every other day so that her dressing could be changed. That was followed by untold number of visits for skin grafts and assorted surgeries.

Another family might have caved. Not the Taylors – including mother, Donna, who was pregnant at the time with Joel.

These days, all eyes are on the future, albeit a sweet affection for the past few years, and what the Center has rendered for their Taylor.

Taylor Jones prepares a horse to bring into the barn and be fed at the Equest Center for Therapeutic Riding
Taylor Jones prepares a horse to bring into the barn and be fed at the Equest Center for Therapeutic Riding

Love at First Sight

Taylor discovered the Equest Center entirely by accident. She was an inquisitive pre-teen being driven by her mother past the facility. At once breathless, she exclaimed, “Mom, look at those horses over there.”

Bang.

Horses had never been part of the Taylor Family Formula. But that changed. Taylor pressed to know more, become more. And her parents responded, setting her up first as a volunteer, and then celebrating her hire.

It was the perfect fit for a young girl who had tried to play soccer and other activities, but couldn’t quite make it work on one foot.

Taylor’s career goal is to become a nurse anesthetist, and she’s already shadowed medical personnel at three acute care hospitals in the area, serving in outpatient surgery, ERs, radiology and delivery. She also is a member of Rockford’s equestrian team, and participates in 4-H. She owns and cares for a horse named Bailey, whom she boards at an area farm. All that, and she never missed a single day of school during the 2015-16 year.

Taylor’s joy these days is witnessing the change in children she spends time with at the Equest Center. “I love animals but I really love working with the kids, because I can see them advance. Over time, even if you’re volunteering once a week, you can definitely see the progress from session to session.”

Taylor fell in love with horses when she first saw them at the Equest Center
Taylor fell in love with horses when she first saw them at the Equest Center

Though Taylor doesn’t advertise the loss of her foot, she doesn’t shy away from the fact, either.

It wasn’t that long ago that Taylor was leading a horse for a young girl with cerebral palsy. The youngster’s father noticed a brace peeking out from Taylor’s pant leg, and asked if she’d broken something. She calmly explained it was to contain the prosthesis for the foot she was missing.

The family had been working with Taylor for months. They’d never known. And to hear her testify that she had triumphed over her own handicap only gave them renewed hope — for what their own little girl might dare to dream some day.

The End.

Or, depending upon how you now view Taylor Jones, just a lovely beginning.

“I love animals but I really love working with the kids,” Taylor says

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Tom Rademacher
Tom Rademacher
Tom Rademacher was long-time reporter and columnist for The Grand Rapids Press, where he specialized in wringing the extraordinary from the seeming ordinary. Read Tom's full bio or email Tom.

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