By Mike Wade
NRVCS Community Relations Specialist

Things haven’t exactly worked out the way Cora Taylor originally planned – and she’s just fine with that. In fact, the Giles County native says she’s now found her purpose.

Both a wife and sister of law enforcement officers, it seemed only natural that Taylor initially planned a career in that field. As she pursued her criminal justice degree at Radford University, Taylor’s ambitions were focused on eventually becoming an agent with the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration).

Those plans were put on hold as she started a family. Eventually, Taylor decided to take on a part-time job while raising her oldest daughter and she joined NRVCS’ KPACT (Kids Program for Assertive Community Treatment) program. It was in that position where Taylor began to consider a future in human services.

“My very first client with KPACT was a 16-year-old polysubstance abuser,” recalls Taylor. “Working with her really prepped me for the world that I was about to enter and I guess I’ve never looked back.”

Soon, Taylor found another door open at NRVCS and she joined one of the agency’s newer programs – Special Deliveries. Based on a home visitation model of service delivery, Special Deliveries is a case management program that works with prenatal women and mothers who have issues with mental health and substance use disorders.

“[Special Deliveries] definitely peaked my interest and it seemed like a natural progression for me,” Taylor adds. “It was challenging, but I enjoyed the work.”

Taylor currently serves as the supervisor for Special Deliveries and hopes to continue expanding the program to better serve the needs of women with substance use disorders.

“This program is so unique and so intensive,” explains Taylor, “and it’s certainly helped open my eyes to the stigma and lack of understanding our society has for persons living with addiction.”

“I think that’s especially true for women with substance use disorders who are mothers,” she adds. “Society in general feels that women in that situation are horrible people and that they aren’t worthy of support or compassion. They are hated and despised. It’s really unfortunate.”

At the same time, Taylor acknowledges that the work is both difficult and emotionally draining.

“We’re working so closely with these women that it’s really impossible to not develop relationships with their entire family,” continues Taylor. “Many of them have a significant history of trauma and so they have real difficulty trusting people…They can actually be downright ugly to our case managers when we first start working with them.”

“I always remind my staff to read the chapters before judging a book by its cover,” Taylor says. “It’s important that we take a step back and try to meet our clients where they are. It’s about knowing more than just what’s on the surface level, so we have to get beyond that and push through.”

Taylor notes that the reputation of the Special Deliveries program has led to an increase in women self-referring to the program, rather than being referred by agencies like the Department of Social Services.

“You know, I think word gets around and women have learned that they can come to us for treatment without having to worry about being judged,” she points out.

Taylor says she has enjoyed collaborating with local physicians and partner agencies in the community to make women aware of the program. Eventually, she hopes Special Deliveries will be able to offer transitional housing for mothers who are victims of abuse or other unfavorable living conditions.

“Very rarely do I meet a female in this program who isn’t struggling to keep things together at home – for one reason or another,” Taylor adds. “What’s amazing is that sometimes just simple words of affirmation can help them see the light and begin to believe that their lives can get better.”

“It’s also sad because you realize that many of them have never had anyone truly believe in them or advocate for them,” she remarks.

Taylor, who also facilitates a weekly support group for women, is quick to point out that Special Deliveries would not be effective without the quality staff she supervises. “I always say that our program is about bringing hope to the hopeless,” Taylor declares, “and we’re lucky to have ten individuals on our team who are not only quality professionals but caring and empathetic human beings. This is tough work and they carry a tremendous burden.”

Taylor says she tries to extend the same level of support and guidance to her team that she has received during her seven-plus years at NRVCS.

“I’ve always had supervisors who have encouraged my development and believed in me – even when I didn’t believe in myself,” Taylor adds.

Taylor, who now has two daughters, also credits her faith with having an impact on her career path.

“I definitely think my spirituality has an influence on how I approach work – just in loving people, I guess…and meeting them where they are,” she explains.

And as for that job with the DEA? It doesn’t appear she’ll be making a change anytime soon. “I guess I’m most surprised by the fact that I fell in love with this program and this agency,” says Taylor. “I came here looking for a job. I didn’t expect a career.”

“I definitely can’t imagine ever doing anything else,” she adds. “This is my calling.”