Date: June 1st, 2009
Working as a registered nurse and nursing home administrator for close to two decades, Cordelia Taylor got a hard look at a system where patient needs were too often put second to the desire for profits. After her ideas for change were rejected by her boss, Mrs. Taylor left her job to start her own facility where residents would be treated with love and respect.
Returning to one of the toughest neighborhoods in Milwaukee—the same neighborhood where she and her husband had raised their eight children—Mrs. Taylor purchased the home they had lived in and started Family House, Inc.
Innovative Care with Heart
Originally the home of eight residents, Family House has since expanded to include nearby houses and buildings, and has turned a decaying block into an innovative long-term care complex. Now twenty years later, Family House has 50 residents and serves hundreds more seniors and neighbors through its many community programs.
Mrs. Taylor’s vision for a long-term care center where people are treated with love and respect, and where their needs are the only criteria, has undeniably become a reality. Believing that simply because you get older and your capabilities slow, your dignity shouldn’t be taken away; Mrs. Taylor offers respect to people regardless of where they are in life.
Anyone is welcome as long as they are 55 or older or disabled, non-violent, and not using alcohol or illegal drugs (unless they are willing to enter a formal program). If they have the space, Family House will take them—regardless of their ability to pay—and many cannot.
All of their funding comes from private donations and foundations, although for the first five years Mrs. Taylor paid for everything out of her own bank account. One day when they were reaching the bottom of the barrel, someone from the Bradley Foundation showed up and gave her a check for $25,000—what she calls her miracle. They have given money every year since and are helping fund upcoming expansions.
Committed to the Community
Committing herself to the needs of the community, Mrs. Taylor believes that if you’ve lived in a community that has been good to you, you should give back. This is why she’s gone beyond the resident facilities and reached out to the neighborhood with services, employment, and friendship.
Around 75% of Family House employees live within walking distance, making it more than a job but also part of the neighborhood. Her children and grandchildren are also giving back through Family House—truly a family affair. Her granddaughter is even being groomed to someday take over as CEO.
Her grandson helps with the Man of Vision program that fights street crime by engaging young men in the community. They give them food, invite them to church, and teach them how to give back. The program has been running for six years and is so successful that they are actually running out of space.
One particularly quiet young man showed up at the program in the middle of the winter without a coat. He hung back from the activities but did share that he had to fend for himself since he didn’t know who his dad was and his mom was on drugs. Family House gave him a coat, got him involved, and watched him bloom. He’s now getting straight A’s in school and got a perfect attendance award last year. This is one of the many things that keeps Family House employees busy—going to events and awards ceremonies for the kids who don’t have family who can go. But after all, “we are their family,” says Mrs. Taylor.
There’s also a food bank where they don’t just hand out food but also teach people where to shop, how to eat nutritiously, and how to stretch a budget. Their Food for Thought program also invites the community in for a nice dinner twice a month. A catering service brings a four-course meal which they serve on nice linens and china—much like a fancy restaurant. While they eat they also hear lectures on topics of concern in the neighborhood, like how to open a bank account or save for a home.
Family House also runs an after-school program where kids come for tutoring and to help with activities. They often work with the residents, setting the tables before joining them for dinner, working in the garden where residents teach them how to grow vegetables, and attending tea-time where they all interact. Mrs. Taylor feels that this program is teaching the students that they won’t always be young, but they’ll always deserve respect.
Never Too Old to Give Back
Cordelia Taylor is truly an inspirational woman, but when told that her story is amazing she replied “it’s not amazing…it’s what people do in life. God doesn’t have big and little people or projects. Whatever He gives you to do you do it to the best of your ability.”
At 75, she still goes to work every day and feels that “we’re never too old to give back.” She always encourages her residents to remember that “what you have to say is important.” Mrs. Taylor has received a number of awards for her work, including the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Black Nurses Association, and the AARP Impact Award.
If you are interested in learning more about Family House or making a donation, visit their website at www.thefamilyhouse.org.