While in school Jackson Taylor could always be found on the field, playing any sport he could make time for. Later he even went on to play quarterback at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut where he studied neuroscience and biology. It was there that he discovered his passion for physical therapy, as well as health and wellness.
At this stage in his life, he’s nearly reached his dream of working in pediatric neurology. Of course, he also realizes the sobering fact that not all children will see their dreams to fruition. His desire to benefit young men and women and shape their lives for the better, is what drove Jackson to take on the position of Executive Director of the Police Athletic League in January of 2017. The Police Athletic League or PAL is a non-profit organization that has been committed to instilling integrity, physical and mental fitness, citizenship, sportsmanship, and personal well-being in St. Johns County’s youth since 1991, a mission goal that deeply resonates with all aspects of Jackson’s background.
He says when he sees someone arrested or caught doing something wrong, he always thinks, “what could’ve happened when they were a kid that maybe preempted that? We have an opportunity to change that course for the better, and we can.”
In the short time that Jackson has been involved in PAL, he estimates that the program has grown tremendously. This year, PAL has roughly 4,500 kids involved in various programs – including flag football, cheerleading, boys and girls’ lacrosse, baseball, softball, basketball, and taekwondo. They also have what’s called an Explorer’s Program which teaches young people the world of law enforcement. This spring, PAL is also starting up a team leadership council that’s aimed at giving older kids an opportunity to fill leadership roles.
The sports program is just a piece of the pie, however. What is most important to PAL are the children’s interactions with each other and police officers. Other sporting activities teach children how to win or lose, but miss the mark in instilling other life lessons. “What are they being taught about life?” asks Jackson. “About being a good, contributing member of society? Being good friends, what it means to go through some hardships and come out of it the right way?”
As the influx of residents to St. Johns County continues to grow, so increases the need for affordable afterschool activities and sports programs. Unfortunately, there are a few obstacles keeping PAL from reaching more children outside the St. Augustine area. Growth would require greater community involvement, land development, more volunteers, and additional facilities to meet the county’s needs. “We have a lot of kids who don’t have mom and dad around. We have a lot of kids who can’t normally play sports because it’s too expensive in other places. We provide a place where they can come and create success through becoming better people and learning how to play and have fun enjoying sports. We’re doing this right now. We’re making a difference in children’s lives,” says Jackson. “The only hindrance we have is how many more kids we can do that for.”