Growing up in Spokane can be a drag. Ask anybody who did. Ask 20-year-old Taylor Weech, who was raised on the South Hill and went to Lewis and Clark High School.
Sure, it’s cool when you’re younger. There are so many parks. You can be outside, ride bikes, be crazy.
“But then something happens in middle school,” says Weech, nursing an Americano at the Rocket Bakery on Main. “It’s not really as cool to play outside anymore. Your neighborhood becomes kind of lame because it’s where your family is.”
PEIRONE PRIZE WINNERS
The 20-year-old spark plug
The schools crusader
Service with a Smile
Two local businesses that dish up a lot more than just a good meal
Give it up for these new groups giving back to the community
Click here to start giving
You end up watching movies in your basement, or skulking around at the mall, hating life, dreaming of turning 18 and moving to Portland.
But Weech did the harder thing: She asked why. Why is there nothing to do when you’re under 21? Why is it so hard to meet your peers — even those who live just down the street from you?
Her senior year at LC, Weech started looking for answers. Joining some classmates and 14 Ecuadorian exchange students, she helped launch a project called Gathering Places — a model for a neighborhood-based, youth-driven community center that would act as an art and music venue, a market and a business incubator. They took the idea to Mayor Mary Verner around graduation in 2008 and began to look at the Hillyard neighborhood as a prospective testing ground.
It was a cool senior project, no doubt, but it was more than that for Weech, a restless student who earned good grades when the subject matter stirred her passion. The Gathering Places project engaged her — calling on her skills as an organizer and communicator, satisfying the part of her that yearned to effect social change.
“It frustrates me to see things not happening,” she says. “I have that urge to do it and get other people to do it.”
Her work didn’t go unnoticed. She was hired straight out of high school by Community-Minded Enterprises (25 W. Main Ave., Suite 310; 444-3088), a local nonprofit that deals with community health and vitality, to coordinate the Youth Sustainability Council — continuing the Gathering Places project with local high school students, seeding a gardening program, and spearheading the youth component of the upcoming Sustainable September campaign.
And that’s just her day job now. Weech is also involved with the Shrinking Violets (an informal meet-up group), she’s on the board for the arts collective Riverspeak, she’s been doing PR work for the Summer Parkways bike events, and she’s involved with the youth arm of Greater Spokane Progress, helping field candidates and engage young people in politics.
Among other things.
“I’m interested in everything, really,” she says, with a wry smile. “It’s kind of a problem.”
Her peers and coworkers reap the benefit, though.
In Her Own Words
Name: Taylor Weech, 20
Position: Youth Sustainability Council Coordinator, Community-Minded Enterprises
My philosophy on life is: Find what makes you happy and do it as well as you can for as long as you can.
Why I give back: I just want to make the place that I live as great as it can be, and I feel a personal responsibility to improve it. I don’t think people should complain about the world or their city if they aren’t actively trying to fix what’s wrong with it.
I wish… that we could get everyone — leaders and otherwise — in the world to work together to make the changes we need in order to move forward in a positive way. Focusing on greed and growth and divisive issues keeps the focus off of the really important bigger picture: how we treat the planet, our communities and each other.
Who I look up to: My parents and grandparents, all of the people I work with who have been dedicated to this kind of work for my entire lifetime and longer, and the young people I work with who are motivated to do something to make Spokane better. (And almost everyone else, too, I’m really short.)
“She’s quietly amazing,” says Shallan Dawson, her boss at Community-Minded Enterprises. “She’s not self-promoting. She’s not over the top. She accomplishes more than just about anybody else I’ve ever met.”
Another colleague, Mariah McKay, says, “She is a true inspiration to everyone in our office. I know that sounds cliche, but it is literally true. We are always hearing how Taylor comes back from speaking at conferences where she wows the crowd.”
So, shouldn’t someone so bright be in college?
“I’m not trying to college-bash,” Weech says, admitting that most of her high school friends have moved on to schools here, in Bellingham and Seattle. “[But] I’m learning arguably more than I would be in college.”
She says she’ll probably attend college eventually, but she doesn’t appear to be in a rush.
“Neighborhood stuff, gardening,” she continues. “These are things I’d want to be involved in either way. It’s great to do it in-depth and get paid for it. That’s the coolest thing ever for me. I’m glad it was there as an option.”
In the meantime, Weech and a growing army of tireless do-gooders and social organizers are beginning to transform the lame, boring town she experienced as a teenager.
“Spokane’s getting a lot cooler. A lot more vibrant. There’s a lot of people working really hard,” she says, excitement in her voice.
“It’s hard not to get involved with all of them.”
About the Peirone Prize
Every year, our Philanthropy Issue celebrates those organizations and individuals who answer the call — who give of themselves every day for the betterment of the community. The Peirone Prize, founded by Jeanne Peirone McGregor and Jim Peirone to honor their parents, is our family’s way of saying thanks to some of those people.
Our criteria for the prize is that you be making a difference here at a relatively young age (40-ish and younger). We accepted nominations from local leaders in the nonprofit world and came up with 48 great candidates. Philanthropy Editor Leah Sottile, Managing Editor Jacob Fries and I narrowed the batch to 15, and finally settled on our three winners, who you will meet here on Inlander.com. This year, each winner will receive $500. In coming years, as our Peirone Prize endowment grows, we’d like to add more winners or increase the size of the cash prize. (Read more about the Peirone Prize.) – TED S. McGREGOR JR.
Send your Peirone Prize 2011 nominees or thoughts on this Give Guide section to [email protected].