One of the greatest experiences in this life is being a part of a family. Not just any family—a loving, supportive, funny, and at times even crazy, family. Though we don’t always get to choose our silly siblings, we come to love their quirks and honestly can’t imagine living without them. And our parents, they can be the real MVPs of our lives.
Families come in all shapes and sizes. Some, we're born into; others we are lucky enough to find. A lot of the time, our sport teams become a little slice of family, too.
Our families form who we are and who we inevitably will become—so having spectacular role models growing up can make a big difference both on-and-off the court, especially for Rolande Taylor.
Most know her as Ro, the gritty Walnut Grove Gator who helped catapult her team to back-to-back provincial championship finals. She plays with passion and soul, yet stays incredibly humble despite her unparalleled performance on the court. Ro is a true team player with no ego—just a whole lot of love for the sport, her fellow teammates, and her coaches.
However, when she takes off her Gator green jersey, Ro is a superstar role model who has one of the biggest hearts of anyone this reporter has had the chance of meeting thanks to her role in creating the Faith & Love Kid’s Club.
“When I went through my struggles, I never had an older mentor to look up to or to help me through my times. And especially a black, adopted mentor that could help me,” said Ro. “I figured…these are girls that I know that have also been adopted from this orphanage and they probably don’t have anybody, so I could be that person for them and help them through their challenges.”
In order to truly appreciate what the Faith & Love Kid’s Club means to Ro, it’s important to flashback to the year 2001.
Just outside of Port-au-Prince in Carrefour, Haiti, a daunting three-hour drive up a river bend, and another few hours on foot up and up into the mountains, Ro was born onto banana leaves in a tiny grassroots orphanage.
Her birthmother, Bernadette Sanon, was very young at the time and felt as though she did not have the means to raise Ro as a single mother. She and Ro’s grandmother, Rosemise, made the tough choice of bringing Baby Rolande to the Faith & Love in Action Orphanage.
And in just 15 months, Ro’s life would change forever when she met her future parents Marci and Jamie Taylor for the first time.
“Oh my goodness…I think I wanted to adopt since I was about 12 years old,” recalled Marci, Ro’s mother. “I got inspired by someone coming to our church and just ever since then, [we] had a love for that totally in our heart.”
Jamie (Ro's father) expands that the two had a passion for helping others, so after attending an adoption seminar and receiving a photo of Baby Rolande, they thought, “Why not her?”
So in 2002, Marci and Jamie made the trek up the winding river bend and remote mountains to meet their new daughter.
“It was pretty wild,” recalled Jamie. “I mean, you had another child instantly.”
Marci had recently given birth to Tristan, so her and Jamie were the proud parents of two children under three years old with just a year difference in between them.
But those crucial first 15 months of her life, Rolande spent each day surrounded by many kids at the orphanage. So coming home and having big brother Tristan would no doubt make the transition a bit easier on her.
“They were really, really close quite quickly actually, which was such a big benefit because that definitely doesn’t always happen,” said Marci.
Fast-forward to today and Rolande has an amazing light inside of her that shines when she talks about how much her family—which has grown to five siblings, including Ro and Tristan, younger brother, Austin, accompanied by younger sisters Fania and Fabigail (who are biological sisters from the same orphanage as Ro)—means to her.
However, at times the light can flicker. Ro has struggled with mental health issues and says she wishes she had a mentor to lean on when she was growing up; someone who firsthand knows how it feels to grow up in an orphanage.
“These are girls that I know that have also been adopted from this orphanage and they probably don’t have anybody, so I could be that person for them and help them through their challenges,” Ro reflected.
The Faith & Love Kid’s Club consists of a small group of girls who are from the Faith & Love in Action Orphanage, all of which are related to one another in some way. Ro guides the day’s activities, sometimes including summer barbecues, hikes, and holiday events, like the most recent Easter Egg Hunt at The Taylor’s family home on April 22nd.
After decorating coloured eggs and searching the house for previously hidden chocolate treats, Ro and the girls bond over the art of dance that comes in the form of the game, Just Dance.
“Sometimes they don’t say it, but I can tell that it’s making a difference. You can just tell that once they’re here, you can just see their shoulders drop and they just feel comfortable,” stated Ro. “And that’s all I need is for them to know that this is a safe place where they can just be themselves and not have to worry about anything.”
Marci says Ro’s goal in life has always been to be a mentor and, fittingly, become a social worker that focuses on troubled youth with a specialization in adoption.
While her brothers, at times, watch from afar as the girls begin bonding, Fania and Fabi partake in the Kid’s Club with open arms alongside their big sister. The three girls have a lot in common—even on the basketball court.
This past high school basketball season, Ro and Fania (with Fabi cheering them on from the bench) helped lead the Walnut Grove Gators to the provincial finals for the second consecutive year. Something that Ro admits was “a dream come true.”
“That was pretty special this year playing with my sister. Jess [Wisotzki] playing with her sister, me playing with my sister, it was pretty cool.”
Rolande, alongside Jess and Tavia Rowell made up the triple threat of seniors that lit up the courts in Langley—and anywhere else in BC, for that matter. She says she’ll miss playing with the two girls, who have inevitably become sisters to her, as well.
“Those girls on the team…I would die for them. They’re my sisters and we just have such a tight bond. Playing with each other on the court is just so flawless and everything just comes together so nicely,” she gushed.
For many young athletes, basketball can be a saviour when life feels a bit too heavy.
“Basketball has always been a part of my life and even through going through mental health struggles, it was an outlet for me…just a great environment and the group of girls I was surrounded by, I always felt like, ‘Okay, this is my home.’ So it’s just always been there for me so it’s a big part of my life. And I also love to teach people basketball and help them, as well.”
Ro recently signed with the Trinity Western Spartans, something her family is beyond thrilled about, too.
“That’ll be awesome [to continue to watch Rolande play]. I think all of our family’s pretty close, like vicinity and closeness, so I think most of them will probably be coming along to the games too, which is so nice,” said Marci on Ro’s commitment.
Jamie added that thanks to her involvement in basketball camps over the years, Rolande is extremely good with kids—which has fashioned her into an amazing mentor, friend, and above all, a sister to the Faith & Love girls.
“She’s really done well to get her scholarship at Trinity and she’s working really hard to getting some other scholarships to help pay and with the kids club and just who she’s matured into as a young lady and what she’s done at Walnut Grove with her basketball, you know, it’s been a real blessing to see her sort of go from being just a little girl into a young woman and accomplishing a lot,” he said.
“Just very proud of her for all of her accomplishments.”
There are moments in our life that will define who we are and who we will become.
For Rolande, the moment Marci held her in her arms; the time Jamie held her for the first time during a car ride between orphanages—Ro curiously looking up at him as he stared lovingly down at her—stealing sweet kisses atop her soft head; her first steps alongside new brother, Tristan, and in 2015, when she met her selfless biological mother, Bernadette for the first time in person—these are milestones that have shaped Ro into an inspirational young woman who has taken it upon herself to give back to a younger generation of girls, who are just like her.
Girls who will benefit and grow from the light that Rolande is in this world. And undoubtedly, she’s given these girls a defining moment in their lives, too.
“My favourite part is definitely just the connections I’ve made with these girls. You know, them knowing that they can text me any time or they can call me or whatever. [Faith & Love Kid’s Club] just created a special bond between each other.” Ro said.
“We’re all a little family…it’s great.”
As I was fine-tuning this story, reading every line by line to be sure I empathized with Ro and her family while also giving this incredible story justice, Jamie informed me that Ro’s biological mother passed away on Thursday, April 26th, 2019. The Taylor family said that as an infant, Ro was very attached to her mom, who was nothing but comforting, loving, and caring towards her baby girl. Bernadette was a strong woman who fought long and hard to give her daughters a better life—starting with giving Ro the opportunity to find safety and warmth in the arms of Jamie and Marci. She was selfless and from what I read about her, an extremely special person.
From the sounds of it, Ro is a true reflection of her mother and my heart goes out to her and her family in this time of grief.