Executive Director • Wyakin Foundation
“I try to focus on four traits to which I’ve committed myself: kindness, authenticity, optimism and knowledge.”
Walking alongside veterans to help them find their path and realize their full potential
When Brent Taylor, CEO of the Wyakin Foundation, steps into his office, he is greeted by a drawing: a landscape scene drawn in colored pencil on a paper towel. Even though it was left in jest and looks amateurish, the drawing makes its home on Taylor’s desk as a reminder of the 26-year-old Marine Corps veteran who drew it and gave it to him. Taylor has built many relationships with veterans such as this over the three and a half years that he has served in leadership at the Wyakin Foundation, and he explains that the journeys he has shared with veterans bind them together like family.
And sometimes, family members draw you a picture to hang in your office.
A unique perspective
Taylor is a husband, a father of three, and a native of Michigan. He doesn’t have a military background, and that has given him a unique perspective during his time working in the nonprofit sector at the Wyakin Foundation. He worked for 13 years in a large corporate setting, and that allowed him to learn about group dynamics and leadership. Then, he ventured into the entrepreneurial scene when he and his wife founded a retail business that ended up growing into a franchise. Working another 13 years in this role taught Taylor lessons on agility, self-reliance and the importance of pursuing sustainable success. He and his wife got the chance decide whether to stay on that path. It was then that Taylor felt called to nonprofit work.
The Wyakin Foundation drew him in from the get-go. When he began work, he was humbled to learn what veterans go through as they transition into daily life after military service. Many veterans report having difficulty with this change and they often have a hard time finding a path forward, he says. Ultimately, Taylor says, his job is about not only helping veterans find that path but walking it with them.
Advocacy and support
The Wyakin Foundation works directly with veterans who are in the process of transitioning into educational and professional settings after serving in the military.
Taylor and his team focus on providing leadership and professional development, strategic networking, academic and career planning, and project management for warriors who find the transition overwhelming.
The Wyakin program is open to wounded, ill or injured post-9/11 veterans who are enrolled or planning to enroll in a certificate or degree-earning educational program. The organization offers an educational stipend based on level of engagement. This helps veterans achieve a stable financial situation so they can focus on their studies and better tap into what career fits them best.
Each day, Taylor is intentional about making himself available to veterans who want to sit down and share their story with him, he says. He believes that one of the most important things he can do in his job is to surround veterans with support, no matter what.
That support comes from Taylor, his staff, the board of directors and 100 active volunteers in the organization, many of whom are mentors matched with warriors. This group of individuals is one beating heart, Taylor says.
The soul of the organization was reflected last year when one of their program alumni suffered a devastating house fire only weeks before Christmas. No one was hurt, but the family of five lost everything they owned. When the word went out to the Wyakin Warrior community, the office was packed with toys, clothing, furniture, cash and gift cards for the family in a matter of hours. This outpouring was a reminder of how Wyakin cares for their own, Taylor says.
Before and after
When Taylor began at the Wyakin Foundation, there were six program alumni in the community. Now, there are nearly 40, and they are doing incredible things not only professionally, but as parents, spouses and community leaders.
Jeff Bacon, co-founder of the Wyakin Foundation, believes Taylor’s leadership has been transformational.
“He is a visionary,” Bacon writes in a letter of recommendation. “I have personally watched him transform Wyakin from an organization that focused on assisting disabled veterans overcoming physical challenges into one that increasingly emphasizes the impact that veterans can have on their communities, while acknowledging the physical challenges they face. He once said … that it is not about the imprint Wyakin makes on the veteran — it is more about the impact that our veterans can have on the world.”
The future of Wyakin
Taylor looks forward to what the future holds for Wyakin. While the financial and organizational side of running the organization is critical to continued success, he plans on continuing to invest in the human side of Wyakin, in whatever way that looks like.
“Many people in the general public are like I was before I got involved with Wyakin, and they don’t know about the process of veteran transition and the socio-economic toll that it takes,” Taylor says. “Getting out and advocating and helping people understand better about what veterans are going through as they transition is important. I try to focus on four traits to which I’ve committed myself: kindness, authenticity, optimism and knowledge. As a leader, my job is to create a shared vision with my team and inspire them to pursue that vision with the full expectation of success.”