On Sunday, March 18, at Drivers Village in Cicero, Taylor Fleming was everywhere.
She smiled down from photos on the walls. Her laugh echoed from old videos playing on a television in the corner. Stories of her passed from table to table.
It was almost like she was really there.
That was the goal of TayStrong, the benefit and celebration organized by Taylor’s uncle, David Guido, to raise money for Taylor’s family. Taylor was on her way home from volunteering at the Smith Road Elementary School Christmas tree lighting and concert in Cicero on Thursday, Dec. 8, 2011 when her 2003 Dodge Neon was struck broadside by a 2000 Lincoln Continental driven by 45-year-old Timothy Williams of Phoenix. Williams was later charged with driving while intoxicated. Fleming was removed from life support three days later so that her organs could be donated. In order to help her parents pay her medical bills and other expenses, Guido and other family members organized the benefit, which was also intended to be a celebration of Taylor’s all-too-brief yet inspiring life.
“If I could describe it in one word, I’d say it was amazing,” Guido said. “It was more than I expected. It was just what I wanted. I was nervous that people weren’t going to show, but we had this huge crowd. It was awesome.”
Guido estimated that about 700 to 800 people were in the crowd at Drivers Village, populating the conference rooms on the second floor. Those in attendance enjoyed food, games, face painting, a photo booth, raffle prizes, a live auction and more. They also had a chance to remember the girl they so loved in life; on one of the tables was a box with a stack of index cards beside it with a sign above it reading, “Taylor’s Acts of Kindness: Tell us the impact Taylor made on you, something nice she did for you, something nice she did for someone else, a favorite memory you have of her [or] why you love her.”
“We’re still surprised to hear from different individuals. We keep getting comments from people who met her once who’ll say she influenced them or they remember something she did, and we wanted to have those memories of her so that we could read them,” Guido said. “We want to continue to hear those stories about her.”
Guido said Taylor’s immediate family — father Dan and mother Michelle, and four sisters, Kayleigh, Jordan, Schuyler and Reilley — was moved by the display of affection for Taylor.
“They said it was such a beautiful tribute to her life,” Guido said. “They were amazed with the love and support everyone gave them. They said it was a very nice tribute to her.”
Guido said it was too early to determine how much money was raised at the event.
“I have no idea yet,” he said. “We didn’t charge a whole lot for things. We ended up lowering the price for tickets at the door; we charged $10 instead of the $15. We didn’t end up raising as much as I think people would think, with the number of people we had. Everything was pretty cheap. We didn’t want people to think we were taking advantage of them.”
He also said the money wasn’t the most important part of the day.
“You know, we wanted to raise money, but it wasn’t all about money,” Guido said. “We wanted to give [the family] a little bit to pay for their expenses, but it was more about a celebration of Taylor’s life.”
Now that the event is over, Guido, the Flemings and the rest of the family want to express their extreme gratitude to the community for everything they’ve done.
“There’s just no way to thank everybody for everything they’ve done for us,” Guido said. “We don’t even know how to begin. There’s been so much support from the community, from businesses, from individual families – it’s crazy how much support and love we’ve received. We don’t know how to even begin to thank everyone.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.