Kids to KNOW: Honoring the life of Tampa teenager, Taylor Koulouris
Every child is truly a ‘once in a lifetime’ child. They have everything they need inside of them to be great from the moment they open their eyes. And, as the years pass and they grow, they dream of and plan for the many ways they will impact and change the world with this greatness— all in due time.
But every once in a while, there is a child that is called to share their gifts very early on, without much preparedness or understanding. They are meant to make a big difference in a very short time, because that is all they are given. And so they do, and it is beyond what most others can and will accomplish with decades of readiness and opportunities. One of those children is Taylor Koulouris.
We remember Taylor for how she lived and learn more about her through her mother, Alexa Parker.
TBPM: She is sunshine, sunflowers, Starbucks coffee lover, sister-snuggler, softball slugger, and scholarly student to the community of friends that still celebrate her bright light six months later. Tell us more about Taylor and the person she was.
AP: It’s hard to put into words the type of person Taylor was. She could light up a room with her smile or her amazing laugh, or silence a group of toddlers with her whispers, fun games and stories she’d tell.
The passion and drive for softball started in first grade. Although she has somewhat of a competitive side, for Taylor, softball was more about feeling a part of a team and contributing to that team. From Little League to travel ball, it was a huge part of all our lives for many, many years.
To her friends, she was the social butterfly and the mom of the group. She was constantly trying to organize large group events, making sure all friends felt included and would quietly get her feelings hurt if her things didn’t turn out the way she had hoped. When she was 13, she told me wanted to try coffee. She worked hard to earn money to buy coffee as coffee time with friends was one of her favorite things to do.
There was a side to Taylor that most people didn’t know or see. She had a very quiet introverted side. She loved to read, write, color and make bracelets. There was a point in time when not even the library could keep up with her reading list, and Amazon wasn’t delivering new novels fast enough.
I remember her bringing her laptop to me a few years ago and showing me these very expensive colored pencils and markers. I didn’t understand why the Crayola colored pencils were not good enough.
After she offered to pay for them herself, I reluctantly ordered them. She would spend hours coloring in her tangling books and the end results were just so beautiful.
Today, we sometimes find her younger brother in her room coloring at her desk, and I’m grateful she passed this passion to him.
As recently as last summer, she and her girlfriends would sit for hours making beaded bracelets keeping up with what I’m sure was a TikTok trend.
Gone were the days of the inexpensive rainbow loom bracelets; we now needed professional wire, and letter beads. I’m grateful for all these bracelets now because I will run into her friends that are still wearing them, and it makes me think of her and smile.
This other side of Taylor played a part in her academics also. On the outside, she would complain to her friends about not liking school or how annoying a teacher was, but on the inside (to us) she was very passionate.
She LOVED taking AP Art History, and she would spend hours wanting her fish cards to be perfect. She even came to us with her request of going to Italy this coming summer.
She prepared an entire speech (which was very convincing) and talked us into saying ‘yes.’ She would have been going this summer. Last year during her conference for Honors U.S. Government, her teacher paid her the nicest compliment on how passionate she was in his class and how her debates were always very well thought out and articulated.
Her grades and hard work paid off; even after her accident, she was honorarily inducted into the BETA National Honor Society and National Honor Society, both of which require a high GPA and service hours.
Being a big sister was Taylor’s greatest accomplishment in life. She loved Ty and Taytum with every ounce of her soul.
When we told her she was going to be a big sister for the first time, she cried, and from the moment Ty was born, she was right by my side. We would jokingly call her ‘second mother.’ However, it wasn’t always sunshine and rainbows.
There were seasons of life where she would be annoyed by them and didn’t want them around, like most sibling dynamics.
At the beginning of each school year, we designate new chores, and one year, Taylor asked if she could instead spend more time doing crafts with her brother or making sure Taytum (a very tiny toddler at the time) didn’t toddle into the road or get hurt. Looking back, I don’t think I realized how much love and nurturing can come from an older sibling.
She taught them things that I don’t think they would have otherwise learned until years later in kindergarten or beyond. Taytum misses her sissy that was teaching her how to paint nails and dress her baby doll, and Ty misses the dance parties and learning to longboard. There is not a day that goes by that she isn’t remembered, cried for or missed.
TBPM: While other teenagers grow very quickly past their younger siblings and prefer spending time with their peers, Taylor devoted a lot of her time to serving children at church and volunteering at Tampa Kids Therapy. Can you expand on her interests in serving and guiding youth in the community?
AP: From the time she was born, I would say she was an old soul. Giving to others was something she was born to do, as it just seemed natural and made her happy.
One summer, she volunteered her time in the gymnasium at church during Vacation Bible School. The younger kids would rotate through, and she would orchestrate games for them to play during recreation time.
I remember on the first day, I was teaching in my classroom when all of sudden, I heard her voice…they had given her a microphone. Of course they had given her a microphone! She owned that gym summer after summer, playing ‘Floor Is Lava’ and coaching Gaga Ball all while speaking very loudly into her microphone! It’s funny because as I’m writing this, I realize her ability to capture the attention of not only children, but people of all ages.
This last Christmas right before she passed away, she volunteered at church for the Living Nativity, and they once again gave her a microphone. She was given the role of lead angel. I can close my eyes and still hear her voice, “Glory to God in the highest, Glory to God in the highest.”
How nurturing she was to little children and how comfortable she made them was nothing short of remarkable. During church services she would dedicate her time to the Pray-ground, a place during the worship service where children can come to color, hear the message and—to some degree—give their parents a tiny break.
A lot of little kids are hesitant and shy when presented with this new area of play, but Taylor quickly had them fully engaged in crafts, singing and dancing!
The summer after eighth grade, Taylor wanted to hit the ground running earning service hours that she was going to need for high school and Bright Futures. It didn’t seem to bother her that she was going to need so many, so she started making a list of all the things she was interested in volunteering for.
I suggested she consider helping at Tampa Kids Therapy during their summer enrichments. The idea intrigued her, and once she spent her first day at the sensory gym, there was no stopping her. She spent every week of her summer there working with children from all developmental ages and stages.
She connected with children of varying developmental needs, and—to be honest—touched some children’s lives [in ways] that changed them forever. Tampa Kids Therapy has created a beautiful sensory garden in Taylor’s memory that allows the children to feel close to her and remember her when they are there for therapy.
TBPM: Taylor was also passionate about the environment and animals, but it didn’t stop there. From a scuba certification that allowed her to clean up Tampa Bay post-events to the supply drives she would organize for the Humane Society, where did this action-oriented motivation come from? How did she inspire others to do the same?
AP: Her willingness to give back started very young when we lived in North Carolina. We lived in a small rural area and there was not much to do.
During kindergarten, there was a “give-back clean-up day” and she very quickly recruited her friends and organized ways to help. During our first winter there, she quickly realized how stray animals suffer during this time and asked if there was anything we could do to help. We would take bike rides and ask for old blanket and towel donations to deliver to the animal shelters. That continued winter after winter even when we moved back to Florida.
Critter Camp at the Humane Society opened even more opportunities for her to discover ways to help, and we would frequently buy on-sale dog food or cat food to donate. Through her younger years, lemonade stands and bake sales would fund her animal donation collection.
Her passion for animals probably came from me. She and I would always joke around that if there was ever an animal in distress, it somehow found its way to her or I. She is probably rolling her eyes at me right now because I followed through on getting baby chicks, and I know if she were here, she would be sitting on the ground singing to them and making sure they followed the sound of her voice.
The scuba certification didn’t start as a way or a means to give back. During the pandemic shut downs, we could see how sad she was that there wasn’t anything to do or places to visit.
Wracking our brains on a hobby that might inspire her, we came up with scuba diving. After becoming certified and then also getting her advanced certification, she quickly saw the opportunities to give back and took interest in helping the marine environment around Tampa Bay.
This need to help spilled over into school as well when she saw the turtle pond in shambles and advocated for a better living environment for the turtles all school year long.
I also want to acknowledge her love and passion for Best Buddies. Since the seventh grade, she has joined each year and formed a close bond with the same buddy since. I won’t mention her buddy’s name, but it was so inspiring year after year watching Taylor give back to her and to the Best Buddies walk.
Planning her buddy’s Christmas gifts and attending Halloween parties with her was something Taylor truly enjoyed. She was also known for organizing groups of friends to pack food with Rise Against Hunger. She would simply say “Hey, this is what I’m doing today; want to join?”
She is still, even after her death, inspiring others to take action and do good. Just today as I am writing this, a friend shared that she was taking her second-grade daughter to “donate many boxes of cookies to the nurses at the PICU. It’s our way of showing appreciation for all of the wonderful things that they do, including taking care of Taylor.”
TBPM: As the age difference between Taylor and her younger brother Ty is seven years, you had her as an only child for a very special window of time. How did that one-on-one togetherness mold you as a mother and her as a big sister?
AP: Having Taylor as an only child for so long is something I will cherish for the rest of my life. She not only molded me into the mother I am today, but she taught me how to view this world we live in through her eyes.
She always saw the good in people. She would find something positive in the darkest of times and it would force me to push through, not only for her but also for myself. When Ryan became her dad when she was 2.5 years old, he learned early on that there was no limit to the amount of love she gave.
I would watch her talk to elderly people to the point of exhaustion about anything under the sun, and it made me realize that sometimes, we have to just slow down in life, be grateful for people and find ways to do good for others.
The morning before she died, she grabbed my arm on the way down the stairs and said, “I just want you to know you’re the best mommy.” At the time, I was a little caught off-guard as most teenage girl moms are when their daughters express things like this. Why was she being so nice and so loving? Was a mood swing on the horizon? What did she need or want? I hugged her and told her “Thank you, Tay, I love you too.” Looking back, it is probably the most defining moment of being her mommy.
TBPM: Though Taylor lived a life of beauty and big dreams, what else did she want to do? What are your plans to honor her now and in the future? What is the best way for friends and family to do the same?
AP: In the fourth grade, Taylor declared she was going to be a lawyer. She never wavered from that. Taking law studies as a freshman, buying court magazines, and dual enrolling to take psychology just enhanced this dream.
She was planning on shadowing a close family friend at his trial this spring and was already looking at which colleges offered pre-law majors. She was enthralled with becoming a Delta Gamma like all the legacies in our family, and ideally finding time in college to help coach little girls’ softball.
She often talked to me about getting married, becoming a mommy one day, and how she was fearful of not being good at having a law career and being able to be a mom like she wanted to be.
Taylor would want us to do good in her name. Throughout all of this, it has made our family realize the enormous impact she had and still has on this community.
During this past December, some of her dear friends organized a memorial for her at the Davis Islands Beach. High schoolers gathered in complete silence and approached the water to lay sunflowers to float in her honor. From the time she was little, they were always her favorite flower.
It was a beautiful tribute, and one we hope to continue for years to come. We hope to find an organization we can also collect for in her name as we remember her each December. In the future, we hope to start a foundation in her memory.
TBPM: What is something Taylor would want us to know? Words of wisdom, inspiration, advice?
AP: Taken directly from her journals:
“To bless someone is to wish peace and happiness upon them instead of wishing evil or bad things. To care for all people means you are doing the work of God. I want to strive to do more good every day that I can.” – Taylor
1) Dreams start small just like the sunflower.
2) Always face the sun. The best way to grow is with light and love.
3) Grow big and stand tall.
4) Let myself be beautiful.
5) Center myself with God everyday like the sunflower does to the sun.
Always look at the brighter side of life, just like the sunflower looks upon the sun and not the dark clouds.
“Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadow. It’s what sunflowers do.” – Helen Keller
*Originally Published in June 2022