By: Dale King Contributing Writer
Jason Taylor played in the National Football League for 15 years. The former Miami Dolphins defensive end was named Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year in 2007 for his community service activities, was inducted into the Dolphins Hall of Fame last year and finished in second place on the popular ABC TV show, “Dancing with the Stars.”
When asked who most influenced his success, he answered without hesitation: “My mother.”
The 42-year-old, retired NFL star was guest speaker March 7 at the 15th annual YMCA of South Palm Beach County’s Inspiration Breakfast. The event drew a sell-out crowd of 500.
The breakfast is the Y’s largest fundraiser of the year, providing financial assistance that gives everyone, regardless of income, the opportunity to participate in the Y’s many athletic, educational and recreational programs.
BB&T Bank was presenting sponsor for the fourth straight year and Office Depot hosted the breakfast for the third year in a row at its global headquarters at 6600 North Military Trail, Boca Raton.
NCCI sponsored the annual gathering which brings together business and community leaders to showcase the organization’s impact in building healthy spirits, minds and bodies.
“Wow, look at the people who came out to support the Y,” said the organization’s newly appointed CEO, Jason Hagensick, eyeballing the audience. Attending his first Inspiration Breakfast, the new boss gave a nod to Dick Pollock, who retired last year after 10 years at the helm of the South Palm Beach County Y and 40 years in the YMCA business. Pollock, in the audience, stood and waved.
In addition to the money raised through the breakfast, an additional $40,000 was collected during the morning meal through donations from the crowd and the sale of footballs autographed by keynote speaker Taylor.
Hagensick acknowledged the importance of the football legend’s attendance. “His presence and generosity in the nonprofit world provides a positive impact to the communities around him.”
Taylor has a foundation of his own, one that supports and creates programs to facilitate the personal growth and empowerment of South Florida children in need by focusing on improved health care, education and quality of life.
Looking back at his life, Taylor recalled his humble beginnings in Pittsburgh where he grew up poor, the son of a single mother. “I have never met my father, even to this day,” he said.
He returned to this comment later when he talked about the enjoyment of being the father of three children. “The best part of being a dad is doing what my dad didn’t do for me.”
Taylor’s mom worked two jobs to provide for him and his sister. “She put a shoestring around my neck with a key on it. When we got up for school, she was already gone. She told us to be home before the streetlights go on.”
“The only time we saw her was on weekends,” he said. On Saturdays, they would fill pillowcases with dirty clothes and take them to the laundromat. On Sundays, after church, the family went to a soup kitchen and helped serve lunch.
As a young teen, Taylor said he saw a man killed in a drive-by shooting. He decided then to avoid drugs and crime.
Though he initially dreamed of playing professional basketball, a high school gridiron coach talked him into playing football. He attended the University of Akron on a scholarship.
When he looked back at his childhood, he saw how nonprofit organizations like the YMCA had helped him stay out of trouble and pursue the straight and narrow. As to the Y itself, he said, “I still use it. I go to the one near my home.”
The speaker wrapped up the event by tossing autographed footballs to members of the audience who paid $200 for each – and another $100 if they dropped the pass.
Taylor also took questions from the audience. One person asked if it was more difficult to lose a championship football game or come in second to Kristi Yamaguchi on “Dancing with the Stars.” The legendary visitor opted for the football loss, saying, about Yamaguchi: “If she can dance on ice, she can dance on a wood floor.”
The YMCA of South Palm Beach County is comprised of the Peter Blum Family YMCA of Boca Raton, the DeVos-Blum Family YMCA of Boynton Beach, The Schmidt Family YMCA Preschool at the Volen Center, the YMCA@901 NCCI and the YMCA of South Palm Beach County’s Community Outreach Center at NCCI.