ohn June 22, 2019, people gathered at Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church in Phoenix to celebrate the life of Larry Thomas.
A dropout prevention specialist and head athletics coach at Mountain Pointe High School, Thomas died of brain cancer at age 45.
During his career at Mountain Pointe – where he was preparing to be the head coach of the first-year football team – as well as At Desert Edge and Copper Canyon High Schools, he worked with many students and had a profound impact on those he trained and mentored.
Between 75 and 100 children showed up at the funeral and spoke about Thomas’ influence on them.
“It was just one story after another about how he touched their lives,” said his father, Joseph Taylor. “How he worked with them and pushed them in the right direction. My wife and I were talking, I said, “What can we do to make this continue? “”
“How can we continue to help children be successful? “”
To honor their son’s legacy, Joseph Taylor and his wife Charley Taylor launched Larry Thomas Youth Development last year.
Defined as “a transformative organization enabling young people to excel beyond their limits,” LTYD is impacting children in the South Phoenix and Ahwatukee area, most recently with a backpacks drive for students of Kyrene de la Colina Primary School.
Ahead of the 2021 school year, 150 backpacks filled with school supplies such as rulers, glue, pens and pencils and notebooks were donated on behalf of LTYD through fundraisers and donations.
According to Charley Taylor, Kyrene de la Colina’s principal said she and teachers sometimes bought supplies for students who needed them in the past, a role LTYD assumed in 2021. She added that the organization hopes take a backpacking tour of school every year.
Students affected by Thomas contributed to the effort. According to Charley Taylor, the one who currently runs the track for Glendale Community College was “so excited” to donate supplies because Thomas inspired her.
“(There are) a lot of stories like that where he just showed them it’s a better way of life,” Charley Taylor said. “They didn’t have to settle down. They could be successful.
The Backpack Reader is one of many initiatives launched by LTYD in South Phoenix. He helped start the Mountain Pointe Pride Pantry, which provided food boxes to over 200 families with the help of Mountain Pointe high school students.
The “Leave a Legacy” series brings together professionals from various fields to discuss preservation through challenges and opportunities with children. In addition, LTYD presents a Legacy Award each month to one or two Mountain Pointe students who are working on their goals and potential.
Another way the organization works with children is through sports. LTYD runs a scholarship program with the Arizona Saints, a youth football program in Laveen that Thomas helped start in 2007. This summer, a receivers camp hosted by LTYD and run by a former National League player. football will take place for the second year in a row after a strong turnout in 2020.
In September, LTYD hosts a golf tournament at the Raven Golf Club in Phoenix. Initially planned for 60 people, there are nearly 150 registered to attend.
“The more we can do, the more people we will have coming to see us, not only students he worked with, but also organizations,” said Joseph Taylor. “It’s not always a group of children. Maybe it’s just a kid who needs our help.
Thomas was known for a saying that has become a guiding mission of LTYD: “Everyone, teach one. He reassured the children that he was a resource available to them whenever they needed him. Whether it was once a day or once a week, Thomas spoke with the students about the obstacles they faced and how he could help them develop a plan to overcome them.
One of Thomas’s students played on the Northern Arizona University cheering team at the time of his death. After her freshman year, she was considering quitting and returning home to the East Valley. Thomas kept encouraging her to return to NAU every year and she eventually graduated.
During the virtual launch of the NAU, she included a message: “Thank you Coach Thomas. “
“He has been with them in all aspects of their lives,” said Charley Taylor. “He found resources to help. We’re kind of that resource, you know, we can’t really walk in his place because he was the only one who could fill his shoes. But it has been very, very rewarding.
Taylors hope LTYD will become the leading organization helping South Phoenix youth over the next five years
10 years. In the coming months, the organization hopes to expand to Tolleson.
One of the main ways she hopes to continue to make an impact on children is by learning what their needs are. For example, Joseph Taylor said the students at Mountain Pointe came up with the idea for the Pride Pantry after sharing that they knew some students who didn’t have lunch and dinner at home. The location of the pantry at Mountain Pointe is just one of the many ways in which Thomas’ memory is honored.
Thomas’ motivation was to educate and train children. He listened to and helped anyone who needed a mentor. Through LTYD’s work, his family seeks to continue this mission for years to come.
“Larry is looking down on us with a smile,” Charley Taylor said. “He’s so excited. He is impressed with what we are doing.