Towne Salute: Taylor Pyles Of The Blue Ribbon Project
Sep 19, 2017 11:42AM ● Published by Nicole Gould
An officer’s badge tends to be their most recognizable mark. But, how often do we see what’s beyond the badge?
Meet Taylor Pyles, Annapolis Police Department Detective with the Criminal Investigations Division and founder of the non-profit community organization, The Blue-Ribbon Project.
After a decade working as a disc jockey for WNAV 1430 AM in Annapolis, Pyles wanted to take part in something more rewarding, so he traded in his microphone for a badge at the Annapolis Police Department. After working five years in the Patrol Division, Pyles moved to the Criminal Investigations Division where he primarily investigates violent crimes and crimes against children.
As a former foster child himself, Pyles wanted a way to help others in the foster care system. In 2013, he developed a website as a resource for adult survivors of abuse complete with articles on mental health, drug addiction, and more.
In 2014, Pyles became a volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) with Anne Arundel County.
“I was assigned a family with three siblings,” Pyles shares. “When they went into foster care, they were in their pajamas and didn’t have much else, which kind of bothered me a little bit. With the APD, I work closely with the Department of Social Services. I never really thought about how the children left when they were in foster care. After my case with CASA, I reached out to a couple foster parents I know to find how the kids were showing up at the house. It was the same story.”
Understanding their struggles first hand, in December of 2014, the light bulb went off. Pyles decided to put together a couple of backpacks for kids in Anne Arundel County containing emergency essentials that would get them through their first 24 to 48 hours of care. Little did he know what would happen next.
On January 14th, 2015, the Department of Social Services gave Pyles the green light to officially launch The Blue Ribbon Project as a non-profit organization.
“When things started to grow, I had to do it right, so I set it up as a non-profit,” Pyles admits. “There were a couple things I kept in mind building it as a non-profit. I wanted it to be 100 percent volunteer and I wanted it to be community based.”
With the effort to supply kids entering the foster system, Backpacks for Love went from a few backpacks to hundreds. The backpacks found their first home with two brothers from Annapolis just hours after the organization became official.
“A few hours after we launched, I received a call from DSS for the first two backpacks,” Pyles says. “I really expected them to kind of brush it off. One was four or five years old and the other was eight or nine. There was a journal and a pencil in the older boy’s bag. He pulls out the pencil and runs all over Anne Arundel Medical Center with it. The younger brother, it was like Christmas times ten for him.”
All backpacks are filled and designed for boys and girls, infants to age 17, containing items such as pajamas, two pairs of clothing, toothbrush/toothpaste, body wash, shampoo, a stuffed animal, a toy, and other essential items. Each backpack contains a blanket or a quilt as well.
“One of the things that caught me off guard with the backpacks is the impact it has on these kids,” Pyles admits. “I really wasn’t expecting it. To see what a pair of socks or a pair of pajamas does to them is incredible.”
The Blue Ribbon Project also has five other programs including Speak Up, Speak Out, Foster Friends, Job Connect, Aging Up, Not Out, and FosterLink.
Speak Up, Speak Out focuses on raising awareness and the prevention of child abuse and neglect through a class taught by Pyles. He travels to different organizations, such as AAMC and the Annapolis Fire Department and holds a public class every couple of months.
Aging Up, Not Out helps educate foster youth about essential life skills such as pumping gas or balancing a checkbook once they age out of the system at 21.
“A really popular class we have is someone from Chick-fil-A comes in and talks about job interviews, how to fill out a job application, when to shake hands, when to make eye contact, and do some mock interviews to help them out,” Pyles explains.
Another program, Foster Friends, provides extracurricular activities for children who don’t necessarily have access to them. Pyles is currently working with a 16-year-old girl who wants her driver’s license.
“The other day I went out and picked her up a book at the MVA,” Pyles says. “Then we’ll take her down there to get her learner’s permit and put her through a driving school so she can get her license.”
The nonprofit organization has become such a success that it has expanded to serving 11 counties in Maryland including Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Calvert, Carroll, Charles, Harford, Queen Anne’s, Kent, Prince George’s, St. Mary’s, and Washington Counties.
“It does make a difference,” Pyles admits. “If you want to be involved, come and build some backpacks. We have several volunteer days. That’s what it’s all about, community involvement.”
For more information on The Blue Ribbon Project, visit Blueribbonproject.org