To say Emily Taylor thinks outside the box may be true, but it still comes across as an understatement — unless we’re talking about a pretty big box.
Taylor, 25, is the program director and cafe manager at the Woody Creek Community Center. In just a few months as program director, she’s put together a list of community events that has many local residents participating with enthusiasm.
A sample of some of the center’s offerings includes kids’ arts and crafts, beginning American Sign Language, yoga, meditation, movie nights, book readings and live music.
Hilary Glass has worked on and off at the community center for the past five years and sees a big difference already in the local reaction to Taylor’s work.
“Emily is really turning this back into a community center,” Glass said. “You can see the community involvement picking up. She’s really organized and pays great attention to details. She doesn’t have an easy job, but she works extra hard to make things work.”
Born and raised in Atlanta, Taylor also spent several years living in Orange Park, Fla., but returned to Atlanta to complete her high school education. Always an excellent student with an eye on science, Taylor was accepted at Pomona College. Earlier this year, Forbes magazine ranked Pomona the second-best college overall in America.
Like many students, she vacillated when it came to declaring her major. Her initial choice was cognitive science, followed by philosophy and anthropology. Her science background led her on this path, but none of the avenues seemed to challenge her way of thinking.
“Initially, I wanted to learn everything and change the world,” Taylor said. “Each stage I went through during my first two years at Pomona led me to different paths and other avenues of learning.”
Her educational epiphany came after signing up for a sculpture class taught by the head of the art department. Finally, she found the challenges she was yearning for.
“There’s a creativity and challenge with sculpture that was extremely satisfying,” she said. “I was always one to think out of the box, and that seemed to be appreciated and celebrated in sculpture.”
As a junior, she settled on studio art as her major.
Taylor then interned at the Machine Project in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. The project is a unique alternative space that hosts many eclectic community events, ranging from scientific talks and poetry readings to musical performances, competitions, group naps and cheese tastings.
The space is designated as an art museum, but the diversity and creativity Taylor saw cemented the fact that art was a concept that went far beyond hanging a picture on a wall.
It was also Taylor’s first introduction to working in the nonprofit sector and introduced her to grant writing, experience she would bring to the Woody Creek Community Center.
She graduated from Pomona College in 2010 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in studio art and returned to Atlanta for a short break after college.
Taylor has relatives who live in Woody Creek and, while visiting them, made contacts that eventually led to her taking a job in the summer of 2012 working the counter at the community center’s cafe.
Later that summer, she was named the cafe manager and worked to feature local foods and products that were both healthy and affordable.
“The community responded,” she said.
Taylor was then given an opportunity to expand her responsibilities at the community center. In May, she was named the center’s program director and began putting her touch on the programming with a more organized and consistent approach.
“I don’t have a lot of background to make comparisons,” she said. “But I think it’s going pretty well. I’m hearing a lot of positive feedback from the community.”
Peg O’Brien has been living in the valley for 23 years, including nine years in Woody Creek. O’Brien said it was Taylor’s work ethic that made a huge initial impression.
“You could see right away she wasn’t afraid to tackle old problems when she changed the setup of the cafe,” O’Brien said. “She rolled up her sleeves and meticulously put together several ideas to make the cafe more efficient. It was apparent she was willing to do whatever hard work was needed. Emily has helped put the heart back into the community center.”
On a personal level, her position as program director provides a platform to incorporate many of the skills she developed during college. She also feels like she’s making a difference in people’s lives within the Woody Creek community.
“There’s a lot of people who tell me the vibe here at the community center reminds them of old Aspen,” Taylor said. “I’m not really sure what that means, but I’m pretty sure it’s a compliment.”
Taylor still plans on one day returning to college and attending graduate school but is happy for now living in Woody Creek.
“I think I’m becoming a real ‘Woody Creature’,” she admitted. “It’s funny, but I feel like I fit here. Who knows? Maybe I’ll stay another 50 years.”