Alumni Profile: Colleen (Cunningham) and Dan Taylor ’01

Alumni Profile: Colleen (Cunningham) and Dan Taylor ’01

Colleen (Cunningham) and Dan Taylor ’01 standing in the doorway of their Love for the Children Academy in Chacha, Ethiopia.

Colleen (Cunningham) and Dan Taylor ’01 standing in the doorway of their Love for the Children Academy in Chacha, Ethiopia.

Keeping Families Together in Ethiopia.

We needed to give back or do something. The answer wasn’t adopting 15 kids if we could come up with a way to preserve families.

— Colleen (Cunningham) and Dan Taylor ’01

Colleen (Cunningham) and Dan Taylor ’01 met as first-year students at Fairfield. Little did they know when they became friends in 1997 — bonding over their shared love of lacrosse — that they’d later become StagMates. Together, they’ve built a life, a family, and have changed the lives of hundreds of children.

The Taylors are the founders of Project Heal Foundation, Inc., a nonprofit that supports their flagship project, Love for the Children Academy, a private school in Ethiopia. Through the school, Project HEAL educates, feeds, and supports the children of Chacha, a village in the northern Amhara Region of the country. Over the past eight years, the Taylors have faced several challenges: civil unrest, the pandemic, and the difficulties of raising funds for their school. But through it all, they’ve kept their primary goal in sight: keeping families together.

Dan and Colleen love children and always wanted a large family. They have two biological daughters, Riley and Maddy, but in 2010 they felt their family wasn’t yet complete. Interested in adoption, they found themselves looking to Ethiopia.

“It seemed like fate; all the signs just pointed towards Ethiopia,” Colleen said. The family brought home their first son, JT, from Ethiopia in 2012 and immediately began the process of adopting another child. But by the time they’d brought home son Bek in 2014, the process had become challenging. The country had started to shut down international adoptions, and civil unrest meant many in the struggling nation were experiencing even more hardship.

“When we left after the second adoption, we both felt a strong pull back to Ethiopia, and we didn’t know what it was,” said Colleen. “We prayed a lot and tried to figure out what we were meant to be doing.

We needed to give back or do something. The answer wasn’t adopting 15 kids if we could come up with a way to preserve families.”

It was their adoption attorney in Ethiopia who gave them the answer: education. Education isn’t free in Ethiopia; sending a child to school incurs expenses poor families can’t afford, such as uniforms, books, and school supplies. Parents often give their children up for adoption if they can’t afford to send them to school. By providing an education for disadvantaged kids, the Taylors could keep families together.

Dan and Colleen knew in their hearts that this was their mission, and Love for the Children Academy was born. Since the school opened its doors in 2016, 239 students have been enrolled. The school currently serves kindergarten through grade seven, and grows every year as the current seventh-grade class — the school’s first students — move through the program.

Project HEAL uses a monthly sponsorship program to support the academy’s students. Sponsorships allow the school to provide each child with an annual physical, a new uniform every year, a backpack, and school supplies. They also are served two meals every day, even when school isn’t in session. The academy’s cook serves tea with sugar and bread in the morning, and a large meal for lunch.

“At lunchtime they have a huge meal to the point where we can’t even believe that some of these tiny, tiny kids are able to eat that much. But they will, knowing that they might not eat until the next morning,” said Colleen.

Project HEAL goes beyond nutrition and education. The nonprofit also provides access to healthcare for students and family members who need it. They’ve arranged life-saving surgeries for students and have sent sick students and their family members to the hospital.

The Taylors came away from the University having absorbed the Jesuit commitment to the service of faith and promotion of justice. Dan experienced Jesuit compassion and community firsthand at Fairfield, when he lost his brother and his community rallied around him.

“I went through one of the most difficult times in my life while I was at Fairfield,” he said. “And the support of my professors, my friends, and a Jesuit brother that would come to my door every night and hang out with me and my buddies [got me through it].”

The Taylors live in Tennessee with their four children, now ages 17, 14, 11, and 9, but they call Chacha their second home. They are currently in the process of building a secondary school in Ethiopia that will allow Love for the Children Academy students to continue their education.

“That’s really been the long-term goal,” said Colleen. “Taking them through high school and helping them into university.”

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Good at Golf

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Alumni Profile: Kyle King ’20 and George Cultraro II ’20, MS’21

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Think Local, Act Global

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