through abilityworks' job placement program, will taylor was given a second chance at life and discovered his true calling - to create light from unexpected sources.
Written by Melanie Crownover
Will Taylor works on his latest project, weaving electrical cord through holes drilled into a piece of old wagon wood. He checks the tarnished pulley that will anchor the piece to the ceiling and screws light bulbs into three sockets that are covered by a reclaimed Vermont sap bucket that serves as a shade.
The walls around him are filled with little trays of organized sockets, wire and screws, while rows of other worn and rusted items line the shelves. As he plugs in the cord to test his creation, the glow from the Edison bulbs reflects in his eyes.
He pauses to take the plastic chip he keeps on his keychain out of his pocket - it's a sobriety coin he was given to mark six months without drugs and alcohol. He's now been clean for two years, and his new life is full of joy and responsibility as a remarried newlywed, a father to five children, and a J Britt Lighting associate specializing in lighting designs made from reclaimed materials.
"I have a passion for using lost things because God gives us all second, third, fourth and fifth chances. I know because this was mine," he said. "Shining a light through something someone else thought was useless and helping people see its worth is part of why I'm still here."
This second-chance job came courtesy of Ability Works in Tupelo, a Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services organization that helps people get into the workforce. The organization offers preparatory classes on topics such as interviewing and resume building, and it arranges contract work with local businesses.
For Taylor, Ability Works offered a transition after a 90-day addiction rehabilitation at Lifecore Health Group. He worked through Ability Works by day and attended counseling and meetings at night during his last 30 days of treatment. Eleven years of experience as a furniture factory worker got him connected with his new boss at J Britt through their LINCS, or Linking Innovative Networks of Community Service, program.
"LINCS gives our clients a chance to work up to 120 hours with an employer to either get experience or get back out there. We pay the client minimum wage and keep them on our Worker's Comp, and the supervisor there gives us feedback on how they're doing," facility manager Tracy Hester said. "They don't have to stay the full stint, but many times they stay on after as employees."
Such was the case with Taylor. Although he'd never built a light in his life, watching his dad do carpentry work in his early childhood and later learning electrical work has paid off.
Not only did he have the creativity to design new fixtures, but he also had natural talent for repair work. When the LINCS hours were up, he was quickly offered a full-time job doing something he truly enjoyed.
"We've probably had about 40 workers a year from there since we started with them—there are three with us now," store owner Britt Caldwell said. "They spend a season of life with us, and we try to build them up before they leave. But Will was supposed to be here. I consider him a friend that just happens to be my employee."
Now his co-workers and customers brag on Taylor's ability to make a light out of just about anything. It's a compliment he also accepts as a challenge.
He and Caldwell work together to find forgotten treasures online, at estate sales and other sites to keep a backlog of possibilities for the store's popular Restoration Collection and Second Chance line, both undeniably influenced by the life of their maker. The collection's feature fixtures are made out of everything from rescued globes and film tins to discarded wine bottles.
When Taylor works with new staff members, he hopes to share more than his strong work ethic or marketable skills.
"Every day I hope they can see where I come from is no different from them. I never thought I would have two days of sobriety when I couldn't see the way out, but I wouldn’t go back now for anything," he said. "I want to show them that they don't have to go back to that life and die either. You just have to focus on the light."