After 37 years at Places for People, Barbara Taylor takes time for “rewiring”
When Barbara Taylor graduated from college, she chose between three distinct career options.
“When I finished school, I had a botany degree, a biology degree and then sociology,” Taylor recalled. “I had always thought I’d be pre-med. I didn’t realize I wasn’t smart enough for that,” she joked.
She applied for employment with the state of Missouri, taking merit tests for three different positions.
“State hospital called me first,” she said. “I often think if that hadn’t happened, I could have gone in a totally different direction, because I probably would have enjoyed, and I still have a passion for, conservation and ecology.”
Luckily for the thousands of people living with severe mental illness Taylor helped over the years, and countless social workers who she mentored and supported, that decision marked the beginning of a career that spanned more than 40 years in social work.
Taylor retired in 2017 after more than 37 years at Places for People.
Joining Places for People
A memorable summer brought Taylor to Places for People. During a devastating heat wave, Taylor was called upon to help provide relief to the staff of Places for People’s apartment program. “I did that and decided to leave state hospital,” Taylor said.
After serving as a community support worker, Taylor became the second director of the West Pine Group Home after Joe Yancey left the post. “That was a really exciting experience,” she said. “You got very, very close to people.”
Not only did Taylor get to know the residents of the group home, she got to know their families, too.
The importance of involving families in care, when possible, was a lesson she carried with her the rest of her career. “They’re going through the illness, too, and they need support.”
As group home director, Taylor tried to provide family members with support and education.
“Families have dreams for people, too. It’s not just the consumer whose dreams get moved to a different place. The family’s dreams get shifted, too, and they go through kind of a grieving process and don’t always have a lot of support for that.”
Toward the end of Taylor’s tenure as West Pine Group Home Director, she balanced that role with a newly created position – Team Leader for Places for People’s second treatment team, which is still known as “Team B.” Taylor led Team B until her retirement.
A mentor and a caring co-worker
Pam Leeper was a member of Team B before becoming a team leader herself. “Barbara Taylor was my mentor for seven years, my colleague for the next 18 years, and one of my heroes always,” Leeper said. “She put her heart, mind, and soul into her work; almost always the last to leave the building.”
Former Places for People Executive Director Francie Broderick worked beside Taylor for more than 30 years. “She took her title of social worker very seriously, and she felt responsible to mentor young staff, nurture them, grow them, support them and help them understand professional ethics and values,” Broderick said.
Over the years, Taylor saw Places for People grow and evolve from a social service agency to a health care organization. She remembers that early in her career, “We pretty much knew all of the consumers. All the staff knew each other. We would describe our job as a lifestyle.”
One of the roles Taylor filled was advocate, both for the people she served and her co-workers. “(Barb was) always the first to bring up the hard questions about our work and our role in the lives of those we serve,” Leeper said.
That was one of the qualities Broderick valued most in Taylor. “Barbara was, like many of our team leaders, kind of a moral compass for me. She had a sigh, and when she sighed, I knew i was in trouble,” Broderick remembers. “If we were asking too much of her staff, she let me know.”
Places for People Co-Clinical Director Scott Bayliff worked with Taylor for almost 20 years. “Barbara was always my sounding board. I always knew that I could get honest feedback from her.” Bayliff said Taylor had a unique ability to view issues at both a micro and a macro level.
Looking back over her career, Taylor said Places for People has always displayed a knack for identifying gaps in services in the community and doing something to overcome those challenges. She recalls the decision to build CJ’s Place to help people living with substance use disorders and having a hard time keeping a lease, and later the Places at Page project as two examples of this. “None of them happened easily, but happened at the right time just when we needed them.”
Since retiring, Taylor said she can’t believe how busy she has been. She’s taken time to swim, hike and walk. She has also devoted time to her two children and two granddaughters. In October 2017, she accompanied her daughter, son-in-law and 1-year-old granddaughter on a memorable trip to Budapest, Hungary.
She has also kept up with her licensure. She hesitates to use term retiring, preferring to call it rewiring – taking some time to figure out what she would like to do next.
On Taylor’s final day at Places for People, her team held a picnic for her, inviting past and present co-workers and person served. It was the people she served who made her job so meaningful. “You get so much from the consumers. They give so much.”
Broderick considers Taylor the ultimate professional. “At the heart of it all was that she really really liked the people we served. It wasn’t just a job, not at all,” Broderick said.
Taylor has the utmost respect for her co-workers and the social work profession. “I think we save lives every day. We also increase the quality of the life that people have.”