Gloria Taylor believes that everyone receives certain gifts from God and at some point those gifts must be shared with others.
It’s evident as some of the people she’s helped out of poverty are now sharing their talents as volunteers with Community Women Against Hardship. Taylor and the late Betty Lee, a former journalist, founded the nonprofit organization in 1988 to provide services to low- to moderate-income families and help them become more self-sufficient.
Community Women Against Hardship was honored with the Torch Bearer Award at the 36th annual St. Charles Lwanga Center Testimonial Dinner March 24. The award recognizes leaders and organizations in the African American Catholic community for a prophetic vision, Christian integrity of character and commitment to Christian values.
Taylor, a parishioner of St. Alphonsus “Rock” Church in north St. Louis, and Lee were employed by Marguerite Ross Barnett, former chancellor of the University of Missouri-St. Louis; the two had read a report on poverty in the City of St. Louis and were disheartened to see the impact, especially on children.
“I said, what can I do to make a difference?” Taylor said. “I’m here at the top of a university and what can I do now to give back?”
It’s the way in which she was raised. The oldest of 11 children who grew up in a time before desegregation, the 82-year-old said her grandmother instilled in her the message that “we all have gifts, and that we can make a difference in life. You receive this, and at some point, you share it with somebody.”
Taylor had $25 in her pocket when the organization started; initially, they started by feeding families and providing clothing, and it’s since expanded to other programs. Since its founding, Community Women Against Hardship has provided services to more than 8,000 families, primarily women and children.
The organization’s Family Support Center, a former school building on West Belle Place in the Vandeventer neighborhood, was purchased from the city for $1. It took more than $800,000 in renovations to complete. The center includes a library, computer lab, music lab, clothing boutique, food pantry, a warehouse of donated furniture, appliances and various household items. Programs offered include job readiness, career assessment and counseling, computer classes and fitness and nutrition. Youth enrichment programs include music and fine arts, a summer travel experience and entrepreneurship classes. If a resource isn’t offered, clients are connected to other organizations that can provide it.
Everything has been modeled after the way in which Taylor was raised — with a strong sense of community and people looking out for one another. “The block unit was very strong,” she said. “The thing is they knew one another. They knew so-and-so was sick, or someone had lost their job and was looking. Food would go up and down. All of them could cook — those were scratch cooks. In those days they had gardens, and made jelly and that kind of thing. People knocking on doors to make sure you were OK. When did that stop?”
Ultimately, it’s about helping people get beyond where they are in life. Success stories include a client who was a victim of domestic violence who went on to earn a doctorate. Another client went on to earn a master’s degree.
“We see the issues firsthand,” Taylor said. “It’s been quite an exciting journey to meet people, and see the capacity that they have. Does it mean they’re always going to get the PhD? No. But if you’re able to take care of your children — that’s what matters.”
St. Charles Lwanga Center Testimonial Dinner honorees
>> Torchbearer Award
Community Women Against Hardship, presented to co-founder Gloria Taylor, St. Alphonsus “Rock” Parish
>> Fr. Edward F. Feuerbacher Lifetime Achievement Award
St. Elizabeth, Mother of John the Baptist Parish; she was recognized
for her work as a multi-tasking leader and influential mentor.
Teresa Rice Scurlock, St. Matthew the Apostle Parish; she was recognized for her work as an evangelizer, focusing on wellness and spirituality.
>> Parish honorees
Lamika Covington (adult), Blessed Teresa of Calcutta
Marine Houmenou (youth), Blessed Teresa of Calcutta
Joseph Tracy (adult), Most Holy Trinity
Shelia Johnson (adult), Our Lady of the Holy Cross
Gaia Francis (youth), Our Lady of the Holy Cross
Michael Coffman (adult), St. Alphonsus (Rock)
Cherina Coffman (adult), St. Alphonsus (Rock)
Jessica Pou Young (adult), St. Alphonsus (Rock)
Zoe Coffman (youth), St. Alphonsus (Rock)
Pauline Humphrey (adult), St. Augustine
Ryan King (youth), St. Augustine
Anita Williams (adult), St. Elizabeth, Mother of John the Baptist
Jason A. Burris, Jr. (young adult), St. Elizabeth, Mother of John the Baptist
Martez M. Rainey (youth), St. Elizabeth, Mother of John the Baptist
Kim Spain (adult), St. Matthew the Apostle
Vola Washington Harper (adult), St. Nicholas
Alana Darrough Young (adult), St. Nicholas
Augustus Lewis (adult), Sts. Teresa and Bridget