Family comes first for Taylor Toynes ('12), but not only his own. Toynes is fiercely committed to improving early education and the lives of people in his hometown community of Oak Cliff. In 2014 he started For Oak Cliff, a volunteer group focused on getting education resources to students in the area. He also works with the nonprofit organization Commit! Partnership as the community impact associate for South Oak Cliff. The coalition of 160 Dallas County organizations helps address education challenges facing Dallas students.
Toynes listens to community members' needs and works to implement activities such as education fairs, summer camps and pre-K programs. One of his favorite projects is the 2G "Two Generations" program. While the children are in early childcare, the parents earn their GEDs and receive career guidance.
"Oak Cliff is the heartbeat of Dallas," says Toynes. "It has the best culture, food, people and the most pride. I wouldn't choose anywhere else to live."
Toynes and his efforts with Commit! Partnership recently went viral when Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg spent Martin Luther King Jr. Day working with Toyne's latest project, a community garden.
"We started this garden in the 10th Street Historic District to give students more opportunities during the summer," Toynes says, "and to provide healthy food to the community in whatever capacity we can."
Toynes earned a political science degree from UNT with aspirations to become an attorney. On graduation day, he gathered his Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity brothers into a circle to sing a hymn, drew his girlfriend, Ariel Joyner ('11), into the center and asked her to be his wife. They married a year later and have a daughter, Wednesday.
Toynes has worked as a victims advocate in family violence for the Dallas County District Attorney's Office, as a fourth-grade teacher at Bushman Elementary School through Teach for America and as the urban specialist at Zumwalt Middle School in Oak Cliff.
"Education is the foundation of our children," he says. "We need to continue to build out this culture of education in our community."