At the start of her senior year at Cicero-North Syracuse High School, Taylor Fleming was asked to complete a homework assignment in which she described herself and her life goals in her own words to her teacher.
“I’m not your ordinary girl,” she wrote.
Not two months after Taylor typed those words, her life would be cut short. 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.
What: Taystrong benefit for the Fleming family
Where: Drivers Village, 5885 E. Circle Drive, Cicero
When: 1 to 6 p.m. Sunday, March 18
Cost: $10 in advance, $15 at the door
All proceeds benefit the Fleming family, who lost their daughter Taylor in a car accident in December.
“When I get into things, I never give up,” Taylor wrote in that September 2011 essay. “As much as things frustrate me, I never give up. I am determined to prove what I was born for, and that is to be a leader.”
Though she was just 17, no one will dispute that Taylor lived up to that title. Her uncle, David Guido, whom Taylor called “Uncle D,” remembered her as a “caring, giving person” who consistently put others above herself.
“She volunteered often,” Guido said. “She was just kind to everyone. It was even surprising to us in her family how many people have approached us and told us how she would come up to people she didn’t know and tell them to cheer up and that things would get better. She had a great personality.”
Guido said his niece wasn’t like some teens who felt the need to act like someone else depending on the whims of the crowd.
“What I liked most about her was that she was always herself,” he said. “When my wife and I were around, even if she was with her friends, she would still give us a hug and kiss. She wasn’t that kid that was too cool to express affection. She was always herself. The person she was with her friends, that’s who she was with us. She didn’t change with anyone.”
Despite the fact that a few months have gone by since her passing, Guido said people still make an effort to remember Taylor.
“We understand that people have to go on,” he said. “They can’t be there every single night of the week. But her Facebook page is still getting hits. Her friends are still constantly writing there. Someone is always leaving something at her grave site, memorabilia and different stuff. It’s obvious that people still miss her and they’re still thinking about her.”
Without a doubt, no one struggles with the loss more than Taylor’s parents, Dan and Michelle, and four sisters, Kayleigh, Jordan, Schuyler and Reilley. In addition to the emotional toll, the family must deal with the financial burden of medical bills and other expenses. For that reason, Guido, along with his wife, Dan’s siblings and other family members, are hosting a benefit to assist them in handling the costs left behind.
Guido said his sister and her husband are reluctant to go along with the benefit, but the rest of the family is insistent.
“We don’t know how else to help them through this. This is the only way we know how,” he said. “The medical bills are starting to come in, and they don’t know what will and won’t be covered.”
The goal of the event is not only to aid in covering those expenses, but also to remember and to celebrate the girl everyone knew and loved.
“Really, it’s going to be a celebration of her life,” Guido said. “We don’t want to forget her, ever. As sad as it is and as much as it hurts to talk about her, we love to talk about her. We all feel like a piece of us is missing. We want to celebrate her life. We want to continue remember Taylor as the caring and giving and thoughtful person that she was — the kind of person who always thought about other people over herself.”
The event will feature live music — country, which was Taylor’s favorite — along with a bounce house, face painting, a photo booth, speakers on organ donation, live auctions and numerous raffles and prizes. Among the prizes are a Yankee trips, wedding gown, a graduation party package with a DJ, tent and chairs, a Taylor-made driver, a laptop, a desktop, an Android tablet, remote car starters and signed jerseys from the Syracuse University basketball team.
“We’ve got some good stuff,” Guido said. “A lot of people from the community have come through and donated. A lot of local businesses have donated. People have called with little things and asked if they could just put it into a basket. We’re still getting baskets coming in. We’ve gotten so much support from the community. There are so many people to thank, and I just know there are people I’m going to miss, but we appreciate what everyone has done.”
Guido said he thought Taylor would jump right into an event like this if it were for someone else in the community. He said he hoped others would do the same in remembrance of a girl who dedicated herself to making other people’s lives better.
“She changed a lot of people, even while she was alive,” Guido said. “In her passing, she opened more people’s eyes to being more caring to other people, to thinking of other people more than thinking of yourself.”
The benefit is from 1 to 6 p.m. at Drivers Village on East Circle Drive in Cicero. Tickets are $10 in advance or $15 at the door. Advance sale tickets are available at the Cicero Price Chopper service desk, The Brick House Cafe at Drivers Village, the North Syracuse Chamber of Commerce, Mario’s Bakery, the Euclid Restaurant and the Cicero-North Syracuse High School bookstore.
If you are unable to attend the benefit but you would still like to donate, you may send donations care of David Guido, 6228 KenLaren Circle, North Syracuse, NY, 13212. For more information, call 452-1710 , email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit taystrong.hostei.com.
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.