“Cheri Taylor comes from a long line of stubborn Highlander Scots!” is the very first statement on her bio sheet.
Isn’t it interesting how people perceive themselves and yet others around them may see something quite different? Expounding upon the word stubborn brings out words like dedicated and strong-willed, or firmly planted and adamant.
According to recognition given by her peers, Cheri Taylor has been a rock; a pillar in the community, especially when it comes to protecting and caring for the rights of the elderly.
She has served as executive director of Porterville Adult Day Services (PADS) for the past 26 years. PADS services the caregivers of southern Tulare County along with adults who cannot stay home alone, including those with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
Taylor has also served in Leadership Porterville in 1997, 1999 and 2007, and Kings/Tulare Area Agency on Aging Advisory Council from 2001-2015, where she was chairman of the board for seven years. She was on the Tulare Social Service Transportation Advisory Council from 1998-2005.
Taylor was recognized by the Porterville Chamber of Commerce as Woman of the Year in 1999. She was also recognized by Zonta International as Woman of the Year in 1997.
In 2007, Taylor received the Paul Harris Fellowship Award from Rotary International for her work at PADS for improving the services of the caregivers and elderly in Tulare County.
Here’s Taylor’s story in her own words.
“I grew up in Riverside, California. My grandparents owned most of the land where UC Riverside now stands. My childhood was normal for any kid growing up on a ranch in Southern California. We had a lot of animals to take care of–rabbits, pigeons, cats, dogs, fish, horses and even a donkey.
One of my favorite memories is riding horses with my family. I have a cherished picture where I’m riding behind my grandmother, holding on to her waist, and my little sister is nestled in front of my mother on her horse. I felt so privileged to grow up listening to my grandparents tell stories about their lives and how they grew up. I valued the memories they shared, even when I was little.
“We were a hard working, middle class, American family. Education was extremely important, especially to my mother. After high school, I went to Riverside City College and then to San Diego State, which became a University right before I graduated in 1974. It was an especially fun time to be in college. Streaking had become very popular, so we would leave class 10 minutes early and line the sidewalks, wondering who or how many students would be running naked through the center of campus that day. I did not participate.
“I supported myself through college by working at Marie Calendar’s. After graduation I became manager of one of their restaurants. I met my first husband then, who was in the same line of work, but for a different company. We had two children, Brock and Amy.
For a while we worked together at the Huntington Harbor Beach Club. I was the banquet manager. I did a lot of cooking and catering for weddings and parties that had privately booked one of our tour boats to cruise the harbor. I wasn’t happy in that line of business and really wanted to work in my field of studies, gerontology.”
Taylor described how the personal trials in her life influenced her choices and led her to where she is today.
“As a young child, I was diagnosed with severe scoliosis and went through some pretty tough surgeries while growing up. At one point, I actually had a near-death experience during one of the operations. I learned that I was alive for a reason and that it was important for me to find that reason and dedicate my life to it.
Suddenly, being alive became an “E” ticket ride. I was blessed. I believe, even at that young age, that it was my purpose to take care of the elderly. I knew I could face death, and therefore I could provide care for other people until they passed. This was something I could handle, and I knew I wanted to be present around others, older than I was, even if they were close to that time of their life.
“From there I began working with different church youth programs. The people liked my interaction with the kids, so they encouraged and assisted me to further my education at Claremont School of Theology. I had two little children to take care of. Can you believe that I packed each of my kids a small suitcase and brought them with me to class? They were so well behaved the professors let me continue to do so until I graduated with my Masters of Art in Religious Education. I continued my ministry with youth and children in the church for many years, but I still felt like I wasn’t fulfilling my purpose in life.”
Taylor explained how she came to live in Porterville and how she found PADS.
“The theater had always played a major part of my upbringing. We went to almost all of the Broadway shows that toured the Los Angeles area. So, of course, I joined the local theatrical companies just as soon as I could. My passion is to sing, so I tried out and was cast in several musical productions. That’s where I met my soul mate and husband of 30 years, Reverend Warren Taylor.
“Warren and I moved here in 1990 when he became the Pastor of the First Congregational Church of Porterville. The pastor who recruited him was the same man who started Porterville Adult Day Services and was ready to retire from the position of director. Warren told him about me and my background and schooling, so I interviewed with him and I got the job.
Back then, we were only open a few hours a week. Immediately,I started the process of expanding, obtaining a non-profit status, licensing and grants. I could see the many possibilities that PADS could do for the elders in our community. It’s been 26 years and we’re just starting the process of expansion again!”
According to Taylor, “PADS takes care of the caregivers of Tulare County, and those they care for. We are the umbrella that offers many facets of support for the caregiver. It can come in the form of transportation or nutritional programs for the ones we care about.
We also offer conferences, workshops, training and the necessary CEU’s (Certified Education Units) for people working in related professional fields. We provide counseling and individual case management services to assist the caregiver or family. All of those services we offer for the caregiver are completely free. Any time a caregiver walks through our front door, or calls to ask us a question, it’s our responsibility to find the answer or give them the necessary tools they may need to find the answer themselves.”
Taylor then discussed the Adult Day Service Program they currently provide.
“We’re probably best known around the county for our on-site day care center for adults who cannot stay home alone. We are recognized for our focus, primarily on patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, although we serve many other adults who’ve had other issues.
“When the person needing care first comes to our program, we provide individualized, personal care plans tailored to suit their needs. We design these care plans around their special talents, experience and education. As they participate in our program, care plans may be adjusted. The object is to keep the family member who needs care at home, rather than prematurely placing them into a facility. Our major focus is to give respite to the caregiver who is often worn out and tired from the demands of balancing a family, a career, and eldercare, too.
“Our services are available to people who reside anywhere in the county of Tulare. We can pick up your loved one from the front door of your home and bring them back again, with transportation provided by PADS. They can also be brought to and from our facility by the caregiver/family member.
“We attempt to provide all the services, along with the comfort they find at home, when they’re in our care. We do activities each day that stimulate their mind; we serve a nutritionally balanced lunch and snacks. We feature group recreational activities, exercises, games and crafts. We’ll bathe clients daily, if so requested. All of these things are to support the fact that socialization is one of the primary ways to slow down the effects of dementia and other related diseases.”
Taylor then turned the focus of the interview to make the following announcement:
“In today’s world, we’re finding that the needs of our clients are expanding and so is PADS. We’ll be officially changing our name to Valley Adult Day Services, since the people that we serve come from all four corners of the county.”
Taylor said, excitedly, “We are now in the process of expanding and becoming a Health Care Facility-Medical-Adult Day Program. We’ll be able to assist with the health issues of the people, 55 and over, when they come here. Just this week we started the process of obtaining our new license from the Department of Health and The Department of Social Services.
‘We’ll have a full-time registered nurse on-site who will work with each client’s physician, making sure that they receive occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy, or other medical treatments, if needed. MediCal will cover the cost of these services; there will be no charge to the clients or to the families. Our new program will also have a full-time social worker on-site as well. Mental Health and the Veteran’s Administration will also be working with us as we venture forward.
“I’m ready to start all of the new growth for our organization. Change isn’t always easy and the process may be tedious but knowing that we’ll be better able to provide for the elderly in our county makes it all worthwhile. ”
She paused for a moment as she reflected upon her life, and then she commented, “Looking back, I’ve come to realize how much having my grandparents be such an integral part of my childhood directed my desire to work with the elderly. I loved sitting in the kitchen and watching my grandmother cook. I couldn’t do a lot of physical things the other children could do. She would tell me stories about being a barrel racer at the rodeo when she was young. I was fascinated.
“Now that I’m a grandmother, I’ve come to know that the passing down of our memories is an important part of the aging process for both the elder and the child. Sometimes, when I walk into PADS and hear someone telling a story about their life, I have to stop, sit down, and ask them to tell it to me from the beginning.”