Doug Taylor saw the pain in his brother’s eyes when he had no gifts to give family members at Christmas.
In July 2018, Taylor’s brother, Buford, returned home after 24 years of incarceration. At Christmas, he was still struggling to get back on his feet.
“He had no funds to buy gifts for anybody and kept apologizing to us,” Taylor said. “We understood, but he felt he brought no value to the family and was embarrassed because he didn’t have anything to give.”
That’s why Taylor is doing his part to make sure others don’t experience that same heartache. Through Rebirth Community Corporation (RCC), a nonprofit founded by Taylor in 2015, low-income individuals, including people recently released from jail or prison, got the chance to choose gifts, free of charge, for their families.
RCC joined with other community partners to host its second annual holiday “shopping spree” at Rebirth Christian Fellowship church in Birmingham. Families in need selected presents during the past two weekends, while parolees came to shop on Dec. 14-15.
“Who doesn’t look forward to giving gifts to their loved ones at Christmas? If you don’t have anything to give, you don’t have that joy, and that creates embarrassment,” said Taylor, RCC executive director. “We want these men and women to have a sense of pride knowing they can show their families how much they mean to them with a gift for Christmas.”
RCC is a holistic support organization in Birmingham that works to improve the lives of at-risk minority populations, including students, small business owners, entrepreneurs, nonprofit leaders and recently incarcerated individuals or ex-offenders. In partnership with the Alabama court system, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department, Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office and others, RCC has coordinated homeowner seminars, financial literacy and leadership workshops, school mentoring programs, coaching networks for entrepreneurs, and student and family counseling services. The Alabama Power Foundation has also provided support for RCC and its programs.
RCC serves as an advocate for all disadvantaged populations. But because of his brother’s experience, Taylor has a real passion for helping parolees regain their footing in the world.
“We believe that one of the best things you can ever have is someone who is for you,” Taylor said. “I’ve seen so many young men and women who have made poor choices. They don’t have the proper information to make decisions and avoid mistakes. We just want to come alongside them and say, ‘We’re here for you.’”
Taylor said the assistance can come in many forms. It could mean helping to provide temporary housing, find jobs, purchase prescription medication, obtain a driver license and arrange for vehicle repairs – a new service that will be offered in 2022.
RCC’s Advocate Plan features a three-pronged process: avoidance, assistance and advancement. During the first two phases of the program, RCC helps ex-offenders take the necessary steps to get back on their feet and avoid a possible return to jail. In the advancement phase, Taylor said the men and women are given the tools needed to become an advocate for others who are headed down the wrong path in life.
“The third phase is where the magic happens,” Taylor said. “We empower them to help someone else as we have helped them.”
During the holiday shopping event, RCC and its community partners spent about $7,000 to provide gifts to 150 families from the community and 15 recently incarcerated men and women who are taking part in the Advocate Plan. Among the items were clothing, shoes, gloves, household items, cellphones, headphones, 1,800 toys and personal care products. The families could even pick up gifts for their pets.
“It was amazing,” said Joseph Lewis, who chose gifts for his six children and three grandchildren. “It’s my first time at home after four years, and it means a lot to be able to give my family something. It was by the grace of God that I found out about this event.”
Antonio Sparks said he was thrilled to have the opportunity to find presents for his daughter, 5, and son, 2½.
“I was so emotional,” said Sparks. “I have small children, and this just came at the right time because I haven’t been able to work. It’s a true blessing.”
Taylor said seeing the smiles on the faces of these men and women meant “everything” to him.
“I was fortunate enough to be an advocate for my brother,” Taylor said. “I saw the joy he had from knowing that after his mistake, he was still loved and cared for. Everybody doesn’t have that. Having the opportunity to be a support for someone makes my Christmas so much more meaningful.”
(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)