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Everyday Evangelists: Mount grad strives to be a follower of Jesus

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February 9, 2011

By Eileen Connelly, OSU

ST. FRANCIS DE SALES DEANERY — What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus? For Denise Taylor it involves being open and welcoming and striving to respond to whoever crosses her path with acceptance and love.

Everyday Evangelist: Denise Taylor
 Denise Taylor at work at Mercy Neighborhood Ministries. (CT photo/Eileen Connelly)

Taylor, a 1994 graduate of the College of Mount St. Joseph, has had plenty of opportunity to put her faith into practice and make a positive difference in the lives of countless people through her work with numerous organizations that serve the Great Cincinnati area. Her efforts were recognized last spring with the Mount’s Sister Peg McPeak Arts and Humanities Award. Established in 2010, the award is named for Sister of St. Joseph Peg McPeak, a longtime professor who retired after 33 years at the Mount, and honors an alum who has excelled in professional expertise and service to the community.

“I was completely blown away and extremely honored,” said Taylor, who earned a bachelor’s degree in music with a concentration in music therapy from the Mount. In nominating her for the award, Philip Amalong, a former faculty member and chairperson of the college’s music department, noted that Taylor’s “experience and work exemplifies a life service and charity — fundamental elements of the College of Mount St. Joseph.”

Leading a life of service was a concept instilled in Taylor at an early age. Although she wasn’t raised Catholic, her mother chose to send Taylor and her siblings to Catholic school because “she thought we would have a better education.”

Taylor attended St. Joseph in Cincinnati, the former St. Leo in North Fairmount and St. Boniface in Northside before continuing her education at Roger Bacon High School, where she played the saxophone in the school band. Looking back, Taylor said, her mother’s decision was the right one.

“I think the discipline we had in school helped me stay focused and has taught me to be responsible and accountable for my actions. We learned about faith and about loving all people and that become a part of me,” she said.

Having always loved the beauty and universality of music, Taylor was drawn to the music therapy program at the Mount. It was there, nutured by caring faculty members and inspired by the faith of her classmates, that she converted to Catholicism after taking part in the RCIA process led by Sister of Charity Marge Kloos, then the college’s campus minister.

Taylor has stayed involved in music in one form or another since graduating, including instructing the Over-the-Rhine Steel Drum Band and serving as a counselor and music therapist at St. Aloysius Orphanage. She has been a member of MUSE Cincinnati’s Women’s Choir since 1999.

“We sing about all kinds of issues, love, loss, social justice, and being able to put that out there is inspiring,” Taylor said. “I love how through music you can touch so many people.”

Taylor, who earned a master’s degree in social work from the University of Cincinnati, has been an advocate for children, youth and families in need through her professional experiences. She was a caseworker for Hamilton County Jobs and Family Services, coordinator of the peace camp for the Center for Peace Education and director of student services at St. Francis Seraph School in Over-the-Rhine.

It’s a busy time of year for Taylor in her current ministry, and she wouldn’t have it any other way. She is part of the crisis assistance staff at Mercy Neighborhood Ministries in Walnut Hills, which includes providing tax counseling services to families and individuals, offered for free to anyone whose income is under $60,000. She initially went through training via the Ohio Benefit Bank and will soon be participating in the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program. Her clients will include residents at a local treatment center for women dealing with substance abuse and employees from a healthcare collaborative.

“I just love tax season,” Taylor said. “I’ve met so many wonderful people just through doing their taxes. As we prepare their taxes, there’s plenty of time for conversation if people allow it. People are willing to share their stories and it’s a privilege to listen.”

Outside of tax season, she helps connect clients with programs and services through the Benefit Bank, working with them to determine if they’re available for food stamps, energy assistance, Medicare or Medicaid. Taylor also assists clients with developing their financial literacy and time management skills.

“Most of the people we see, at least for benefits, are low income,” said Taylor, who also works as a home-based therapist for Lighthouse Youth Services. “They may be people who were working, but are now struggling for whatever reason. We have people come in of all ages, from young adults to the elderly.”

No matter who she is working with, the values instilled through Taylor’s upcoming and faith remain at the heart of her ministry.

“I just try to listen and be there for them,” she said. “Being respectful and doing what ever I can to help people is important to me.” 

 

Sister Eileen Connelly, OSU can be reached at: [email protected].

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