At a wedding in the of in Novato, catering captain Taylor is a central player with a strong presence. He lays out platters of appetizers garnished with citrus and flowers, and he greets guests with a warm smile and a few welcoming words.
Taylor displays an enthusiastic professionalism that is right in line with his earlier statement about his job: "I consider myself one of the lucky people in the world."
Three years earlier, Taylor lived on the streets of San Rafael, with a sleeping bag under his arm. He recalls being out in the rain with his bedding soaked, trying to find a dry place to rest.
"I bounced from doorway to doorway of businesses and churches," he says. "Now everyone has security. Security would chase me away." Taylor typically would get a few hours of sleep before moving onto the next spot.
Taylor became homeless after months of what he calls "couch surfing," a level of homelessness in which a person still has the means to rent a spot to sleep in someone's home, usually a couch or a piece of floor.
Taylor soon after found help at the Mill Street Center in San Rafael, an organization connected with Homeward Bound that offers shelter and guidance for Marin's homeless residents. At Mill Street, Taylor was assigned a counselor to help him lay out his goals and to identify the kind of help he needed.
"Everyone who walks into Mill Street gets to access so many resources," says Taylor, who received work clothes from a Marin organization called Image for Success and new glasses from Lenscrafters.
After three months at Mill Street, Taylor entered a six-month program at , an 80-bed shelter, and a two-year program at the adjacent , 32 affordable studio apartments for homeless adults in transition. Both programs are located on Novato's Homeward Bound campus.
Taylor credits Homeward Bound for helping him get back into the workforce. "They don't judge or criticize," he says. "They let you do what you're capable of doing. They had the patience to work with me, support me and encourage me."
While residing at the Next Key Center, Taylor enrolled in the on-site , a 10-month program that enrolls 30 students each session, many of whom are Next Key residents. The program boasts excellent training, a state-of-the-art industrial kitchen, and a parade of celebrity chefs who offer special classes, many of which are open to the public.
Taylor recalls working with award-winning chef and restauranteur Michael Mina. "We're talking about the menu, the knife technique, how this food would pair … and this all goes on my resume," Taylor says.
Taylor beams as he leads me on a tour of the kitchen. I am given delicious samples of brie en croute and chicken skewers dipped in a spicy peanut-pesto sauce. He shows me the ovens and truffle maker, explaining their features with a palpable enthusiasm.
Homeward Bound's Novato kitchen has the capability of producing up to 2,000 meals in a crisis situation such as a major natural disaster. Taylor could not confirm whether the sumptuous brie or chicken skewers would be on the menu following an earthquake or wildland fire.
When asked what advice he would give to others, Taylor says, "Remain patient. Homelessness is not a fun thing."
Taylor spoke of the challenges of living with 79 other residents at the Next Key studios, calling it crowded, frustrating and discouraging at times. He says it's all about not giving up, staying positive and committing oneself "to do the next right thing."
Taylor continues to pursue his goals, one of owning his own business and the other of returning to Marin, which he describes as "amazing." Taylor moved from Iowa to San Rafael in 1977, when he was 19 years old. He now commutes to his job in Novato via bus from Vallejo, the journey sometimes taking up to 3 1/2 hours as was the case the rainy afternoon we spoke on the phone when Taylor's bus had missed the connection in Richmond due to traffic.
Taylor is hopeful that his commute will change. "I'm on the Section 8 waiting list (for Marin)," he says. "My name should be coming up soon."
Taylor's career plans include owning and operating a cappuccino cart, a goal that a California-based nonprofit program, Earn, is helping him achieve. He plans to work in tandem with caterers to provide high-end coffee services at various events, and Earn's $2 contribution to each $1 Taylor saves is putting him closer to being up and running.
The name for this soon-to-be new vendor on the block? Taylor-Made Espresso, of course.
As he waits for the chance to live in Marin and achieve his entrepreneurial goals, Taylor approaches his current routine with a sense of joy and gratitude.
"I've found my spot," he says. "I've found my niche. I love going to work … I have Homeward Bound to thank for this."