Creating the foundation: Taylor Perkins on building schools and students’ passion for careers in construction

By Alison Bailin Batz, June 2020 Issue.

Life is an ever-winding road.

And that is just fine for Taylor Perkins, who thanks that winding road for bringing her to Arizona, no matter how many twists and turns it took.

Her story begins in Viroqua, a small town in Wisconsin.

The middle of seven children and cared for by a single mother, Perkins’ family actually moved to Arizona when she was young and spent her youth being homeschooled and playing with her siblings. A generally happy child, she was most often dancing, dreaming up games with her siblings, and falling in love with art.

“Then at 14, my oldest sister passed away, and I learned life can change in an instant,” says Perkins, whose family struggled then more than ever — especially with how to deal with such a tragedy — and moved back to small-town Wisconsin.

Over the next three years, when she wasn’t in school — traditional school this time — much of Perkins’ time was spent caring for her siblings, in particular her younger sister Brynn, who has Down syndrome. The family then decided a move back to Arizona would be in their best interest; however, Perkins had other plans.

“I was 17 and a high school senior. I craved some normalcy, so I did what many considered a very un-normal thing,” says Perkins. “While my family moved, I stayed in Wisconsin for my senior year. I got my own place, paid my own bills, worked full time and still went to school and took college courses at night.”

Perkins, who also gave birth to a daughter — Angelia — at this time, applied for a scholarship after graduation, earning the opportunity to continue her education in community college. Over the next several years, the single mom worked several jobs to get by.

“Eventually, homesickness sunk in, but this time not for Wisconsin, for my family,” says Perkins, who made her way back to Arizona in 2015.

Once settled in, Perkins took a job in the insurance industry and cared for her younger siblings while raising a daughter of her own.

“I also applied to ASU Online, because education — both mine and showing my daughter the importance of it — mattered so much to me,” says Perkins, who was accepted and worked toward her bachelor’s degree in Business Administration over the next several years.

In 2018, bachelor’s degree in hand, Perkins was excelling in insurance and assuming that the winding road she’d been on for so long was in her rearview mirror.

“Of course, just when you think you have it all figured out, life has other plans for you,” says Perkins. “I still marvel that — of all things — LinkedIn started me on my best road yet.”

It was through LinkedIn that Perkins connected with Vicente Terán.

“He was an insurance customer, so I accepted the connection and figured that would be the end of that,” says Perkins. “I was wrong!”

Perkins saw that Chasse was hiring and then realized her recent connection, Vicente, was employed there.

“Now, I had zero construction experience, but the position that popped up was in business development,” says Perkins. “For whatever reason, something made me apply. I was 99% sure I wouldn’t get a call or anything, but something told me to do it anyway.”

Not only did she get a call, but she was asked to come in and meet with several members of the Chasse team, including owner Barry Chasse.

“Barry must have spent two hours with me, and by the end, it felt like I was talking to a friend or mentor, not a stranger or perspective employer,” says Perkins. “He hired me a week later. And in the two years since, I feel like after all the moving and struggling, that I’ve finally found my home.”

Perkins distributing food at a local school district.

And though her title is technically that of business development coordinator, her work is in no way about wining and dining prospective clients. In fact, it is about making a difference in the lives of kids, many of whom she sees herself in in several ways.

“Among Chasse’s niche areas is K-12 schools,” says Perkins. “We work with schools across Arizona, some we build from the ground up, some we remodel and some we completely re-imagine.”

In fact, they are the team behind the new and state-of-the-art Canyon View High School in Agua Fria Union High School District, the Dove Mountain CSTEM School in Marana and the soon-to-open Creighton Academy (formerly Creighton Elementary School) in Central Phoenix.

“Before, during and even after the build is where I come in,” says Perkins. “My role is to work with the schools and school districts to provide proactive and hands-on education experiences for their students and faculty. I also look for ways we can help give back to the schools directly.”

According to Perkins, there are nearly a dozen programs she and Chasse host and produce to help open kids’ minds to careers in construction and building. This happens both in classes and beyond. A particularly special example to Perkins occurred just before COVID-19 ended classroom learning in the short term.

“In celebration of Career and Technical Education Month, we partnered with Lowe’s, Timberland PRO and Generation T for the first-ever Better Building Project at Agua Fria High School in west Phoenix,” says Perkins, “Through the program, we worked with more than 150 students to build 60 picnic tables, some of which would be used at the school and others that would be donated to other schools and charitable organizations.”

The program’s mission was to give students a hands-on opportunity to help their community; to teach students trade skills and encourage their passion for the trades; and to help students understand the importance of teamwork.

“I am also proud at how we’ve been able to support teachers and students amid COVID-19,” say Perkins, noting that her team has granted computers, gift cards, graduation signs and monetary donations to school districts and their communities across Arizona to help with virtual graduations, at-home learning and more over the past two months alone.

She also joined the board of Careers in Architecture, Construction and Trades Uplifting Student (CACTUS) to offer opportunities in career training to young people and their families. The program is geared toward middle schoolers and gives them hands-on experience in constructing and building tangible items.

“Recently, we worked with the kids at Madison Park to build a planter at their school,” says Perkins. “The students were involved from design to final product, doing everything from digging the footings and pouring the concrete to laying the block. They even did the painting!”

Beyond finding a home and a way to give back to kids in need, as well as a way to inspire and teach students, Perkins is also thankful for Chasse for a very different reason.

“There happens to be an exceptionally talented project engineer named Gabi Robinson on our team,” says Perkins. “We met at Chasse, and she — along with my now 10-year-old Angelia — have been two of the biggest blessings in what has become a very blessed road.” 

Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

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