Jesse Taylor
Thu, December 15, 2011 at 22:00
Stephanie Hunt in Coffs, Coffs Coast, Coffs Harbour, Garth McGilvray, Interesting Person, Jesse Taylor, Mark Graham, The Most Interesting Person I Know

Garth McGilvray thinks Jesse Taylor is the most interesting person he’s met in Coffs Harbour.  He’s the new manager at headspace MNC and what Garth finds fascinating is his years of experience working in the community sector in New York City.  “He brings a different perspective to Coffs,” says Garth.


Jesse Taylor at a rally in New York CityThere IS Such a Thing as a Free Lunch

Jesse Taylor, manager of headspace Mid-North Coast, says there’s often nothing more effective than a free lunch.  Ironically his proof doesn’t come from his years serving up meals in soup kitchens in New York City.  Rather it comes from his experience right here in Coffs Harbour reviving the somewhat dormant Youth Suicide Prevention Committee. 

“When I came on board in June this year, there were two fantastically committed people attending the meetings.  I found an organization (MHPN) that was willing to provide money to buy food and pay for speakers,” Jesse explains.  “So I sent out a flyer to announce there would be free lunch at the Youth Suicide Prevention Committee meeting and 25 people showed up.”

Providing people with a free lunch and a leg up has been central to Jesse’s life from a very young age. Now 36, he grew up in New Jersey, about 10 minutes from Manhattan.  He recalls the advice of one of his parent’s friends.  He said to me, “Figure out what you love and go do that.  Don’t do it for the money, you don’t want to end up miserable like me.”  So I thought, “I really love the idea of helping people and I think it’s important that I find a way to do that.

And find a way he did!  He started in Queens, running an immigrant youth leadership program.  Three years later he met Rev Terry Troia, the Executive Director of Project Hospitality, a Staten Island based organization that shelters the homeless, feeds the hungry and takes care of people with HIV AIDS.  Rev Troia had heard of Jesse, and invited him to join as a youth worker. 

While he was at Project Hospitality a leadership fellowship earned him a place at the City University of NY studying under top non-profit directors including Dr. Lucy Cabrera the President of the Food Bank for NYC.  Lucy liked Jesse’s style and it wasn’t long before he found himself in Harlem managing one of NYC’s largest food pantries and soup kitchens.

The jobs keep getting bigger, but it’s the people that best define Jesse’s career – people have been a part of each moment of triumph, sadness and delight.  He remembers bussing 400 young New Yorkers to the Democratic primaries in South Carolina.  “We had six of the ten people who asked questions of the politicians on national TV,” he recalls.  “Those kids realised that what they said mattered, and that we’re only limited by our imagination and what we’re willing to do.  That was one of the great moments of my life.” 

But the moments weren’t all uplifting.  He recalls visiting the family of a young Mexican man who had been beaten to death on Staten Island.  “These kids killed him just because.  He was my age and had 3 children.  It was very difficult to see what the family was going through.  So we held a vigil to try and draw attention to the delineations that divide us.”

And then there was Barry.  He had been a regular at the Harlem soup kitchen for years before Jesse joined Food Bank.  “He had his whole world on his back, he was hunched over and he smelled pretty bad,” Jesse remembers, but he adored Barry from the start.  “We got him into an access program and helped him get housing.  About two years later Barry showed up and he said, ‘Jesse, I’ve got an apartment and I’d like to invite you over for a meal,’” Jesse smiles at the memory  “It’s people like Barry that made my work special.”

And it’s Jesse’s belief in people that keeps him motivated.  “We all want to be a part of something larger than ourselves,” Jesse explains.  “I love creating platforms that bring people together to develop new ways to support the larger community.”  And it is this belief in people and an exuberant desire to help people help each other that drive Jesse in his latest career as manager of headspace Mid-North Coast, the Coffs based go-to organization for young people with problems.

Jesse with Alice, Marisol and JuliusIf you are wondering what lured this rising star of the American not-for-profit sector to a place like Coffs Harbour then the answer is simple:  love.  Jesse met local Coffs Harbour girl Alice Jamison fleetingly at a wedding in Sydney in 2000.  Four years later she came to New York and looked him up, and somewhat to his surprise they were engaged two weeks later.  They stayed in America while Jesse worked for Project Hospitality and the Food Bank for NYC, but after the birth of their two children, Marisol and Julius (now 5 and 3), they opted to raise their family in Coffs Harbour and arrived here in November 2010.  By April Jesse was employed as manager of headspace MNC.

“It’s the same.  Same stuff, better environment,” says Jesse of the difference between not-for-profit in NYC and Coffs Harbour.  “But I think Coffs Harbour is great.  I know it has some problems, but there’s more opportunity to talk in a small town.

Jesse with Patrick McGorry in Coffs Harbour Photo by: Maddison O'Brien And Jesse is a good talker.  He met Patrick McGorry, 2010 Australian of the Year at a mental health conference in late June, and managed to sweet talk him into coming to Coffs to participate in the Opening Minds for a Better Future Forum held last month.   He persuaded the Coffs Council to support a Block Party in October to celebrate the opening of headspace’s new premises and to bring groups of young people together.  And of course, he managed to revive the Youth Suicide Prevention Committee, which now brings together over 70 dedicated practitioners to work toward reducing youth suicide in our region.

Which brings us back to free lunch.  Jesse says that being the guy who offers up free lunch does not command a big salary, but it is rich in rewards.  “My reward comes in meeting people like Les*, who came to us homeless and living in his car 6 months ago.  He’s working with one of our headspace youth workers in collaboration with a local employment agency.  He’s looking for a job and going back to school: he wants to be a youth worker!  He went from a place of despair to a place of hope.  That’s very rewarding!  It’s wonderful!”

And it’s wonderful for Coffs Harbour to have adopted someone so willing to offer up a free lunch!


*Name has been changed.


Jesse says that Mark Graham, one of Coffs local councilors is the most interesting person he knows in Coffs.  Jesse has known Mark for awhile, because his wife Alice is friends with Mark’s partner Gerry and they even travelled together in the US.  “It’s not the councilor thing that’s interesting about Mark,” says Jesse.  “He just has this really fascinating mind.  He can identify hundreds of plants.  I don’t know if he’s a botanist but you just have to talk to the guy.”  Ok, ok…I’m off to speak to Mark Graham.

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