KRM welcomes new executive director after Taylor's retirement

Sep. 24—Giving a voice to those often seen as the voiceless in our community has been Van Taylor's mission ever since he started at the Kokomo Rescue Mission around 20 years ago, first as a board member and then as executive director.

The job, he pointed out, was never simply about shuffling papers.

It was about changing hearts and helping to transform lives, whether it was through programs like "Red Ribbon Christmas" or "Walk a Mile in My Shoes."

Earlier this year, Taylor decided to step away and retire from his role with the the Mulberry Street facility, which has served Kokomo's homeless or near-homeless population since 1953.

The agency's new executive director is Kevin Smith, former pastor at Crossroads Community Church.

And while stepping away from the Kokomo Rescue Mission isn't a decision that Taylor said he took lightly, he admitted it was also the right time.

The Tribune caught up earlier this week with Taylor during an open house celebrating his career with the agency, and he said he's excited for what lies ahead.

But on this day, he was also a bit melancholy about all he said he feels he's helped achieve throughout the last two decades.

"This is about talking to people and realizing that in a small way, you're giving them hope," Taylor said. "There's little hope and then there's big hope with a capital H. Little hope is that they (KRM residents) know where their pillow will be every night. Little hope is that they're well-fed and don't have to scrounge around for food.

"But big hope is helping them go on a new path in life," he added. "It's the healing of the soul and healing of the heart filled with the faith that gives hope in Jesus Christ."

It's about being a harbor from the storms of life, Taylor acknowledged, whether that's an actual tornado or flood or just a bump in the road like finding temporary housing or assistance with rent.

And while Taylor was often the face of the KRM, he admitted his tenure there was all about teamwork.

"We can't do what we do at the mission without the entire community," he said, "whether you're a staff member or a board member or a volunteer or a business owner or just another community partner. To do and serve 1.8 million meals, you have to have everyone working together. I stand, I stood, on a lot of people's shoulders."

Taylor then paused for a moment when asked what some of his best advice would be for Smith as he steps into his new position with the mission.

"Just wait upon the Lord," he said. "Don't drive out into the middle of this busy intersection before looking all ways and all places. ... Be patient, and listen more than you speak."

As he was answering the question, Taylor occasionally peeked over to Smith, who was standing nearby and greeting some community members with a smile or a hug.

Of course Taylor and Smith both acknowledged there will still be transition, but the pair also noted that the collective mission of the KRM will still be pretty simple.

"I look forward to being in settings where I can tell people about the ones we're serving," Smith said when asked about his new role. "They (homeless people) often don't have a voice, but I will because of my position I'm in, and I'm looking forward to using it.

"The message hasn't changed," he added. "The purpose of why the KRM exists didn't change when Van left. It didn't change when Van came. Van was a part of a 70-year history, and I get to be a part of the next chapter. ... And I'm excited that God is going to lead us to be able to see what that looks like."