The future for Arkansas is 'Taylor Made' with reading
Author: Craig O'Neill, THV11 Digital
Published: 10:37 AM CST November 21, 2017
Updated: 2:13 PM CDT March 28, 2018

The future for Arkansas is 'Taylor Made' with reading

Chapter 1

Hitting the Road

THV11’s Craig O'Neill is famous for his classic prank-calls from his days on the radio.

He's also well-known for the funny way he can captivate a crowd at all kinds of fundraisers whether it's for the Rockefellers or the local Rotary Club.

But something caught his attention recently and it’s something he knows we can change.

That's why he's taking us on the "Craig’s Reading Road Trip." 39 percent of Arkansas students are reading at grade level. When Craig read that, he joined hundreds of Arkansans looking to produce better readers.

The Craig O'Neill tour was born and now in its fourth month. If you're thinking the simple act of reading won't help our state overcome obstacles it has always faced, boy do we have a story for you.

Chapter 2


The ACCESS garden in midtown Little Rock includes this climate-controlled greenhouse. This is part of the ACCESS Life program, which provides meaningful work for young adults with developmental delays and learning disabilities

Taylor Ford helps harvest lettuce that will go right to Little Rock restaurants like Taziki's. She said she loves it here! She works under the direction of Scott Simmons. “She's a great worker, very hard working, doesn’t ever give up,” said Simmons.

Taylor does take breaks and when she does, she reads. She has been reading her whole life.

Nicole and Taylor Ford

“Even though she may have had challenges at least she had a chance because she could at least read,” said Taylor’s mother, Nicole.

And read and read and read. Reading to beat the hand dealt her at birth.

“Taylor has what's called G Barre syndrome. It's a very rare disorder. It's a neurological disorder,” said Nicole.

From the day Taylor was born, Reginald and Nicole Ford knew their daughter would face major obstacles. Motor, balance and stability issues. There would be developmental delays. But they also saw something.

“We saw that she picked up on language immediately, she was picking up on words,” said Nicole. “Words are so important. Words matter,” said Reginald.

It got to the point, Taylor never left home without a book. She focused on and nurtured this strength. The Fords saw their child thrive at every level in school and students and teachers even noticed. The crowning glory for her hard work and determination came on a fall night in Jacksonville when she was named the 2014 North Pulaski homecoming queen. Yes, the Fords were proud, but Reginald worried his daughter had simply gotten a sympathy vote. But while standing on the field that night a teacher said something to him that he would never forget.

Taylor and Reginald Ford

“Don't question what has been done. These children love her and know that she has worked her butt off through all of those disabilities so after that I was fine,” said Reginald.

And we could close the book on Taylor Ford at this point and have a sweet story. But there is another chapter that's being written now. What happened next speaks volumes about the sustained power of reading.

Chapter 3

Highway to Higher Learning

There's another part of Taylor's story because now her parents are doing some harvesting of their own. Twice a week at Tolleson Elementary in Jacksonville, Reginald and Nicole Ford read to and with children. This isn't volunteering. It's a calling.

“We saw it worked with Taylor, so I know it can work,” said Nicole. “We have a responsibility to each other. To the children. And to the community,” said Reginald.

The Fords are here because of what Nicole saw on TV which was a public service announcement for ‘AR Kids Read’ enlisting mentors.

“By the time I saw it I just jumped on it. I just thought that was the perfect opportunity,” said Nicole.

In their third year, they have taken it a step further.

“They have assisted us with recruiting numerous tutors for our organization and helping people get more involved in the schools,” said Jasmine Wakefield, Regional Coordinator for AR Kids Read.

“You know when it's something you enjoy doing, you just do it. You don't see it as work,” said Nicole. “I say it works even if it's just one small gain just for them to enjoy. Just to learn about a book to see that they do not have to be afraid of a book.”

For Reginald, this has to work. “Because we'll either deal with them now in reading or we'll deal with them later in the courts. Either way, we're gonna deal with them, so why not catch them on the front end,” he said.

A child is nurtured by parents then inspired those parents who have faith they can make a change. Knowing if their child can use the power of the book to overcome her obstacles, what's to prevent an entire state from overcoming its stigma to achieve its full potential? This is a story Taylor Made for the future of Arkansas.

Chapter 4

Road Map to Mentoring

As we mentioned earlier, only 39 percent of Arkansas students read on grade level.

Craig O'Neill, Ford Family and students

If we can change that number, we cut down on the dropout rate, decrease crime and increase the college graduation rate. Companies are created, they move to Arkansas, the economy improves. You can see where this is headed.

To join us in mentoring – click here.