15 Sep 2015
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Easing the Costs of Saving a Child

Pathways for Little Feet encourages families to adopt by providing interest-free loans, education, and advocacy.
Re: Cynthia Montgomery; Lynda Applegate
by Jill Radsken

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Photo by Michael Stravato

When Kerr Taylor (OPM 39, 2010) and his wife, Jill, returned from Russia in 1998 with his adopted baby girl, Christina, another child remained in his thoughts: a blue-eyed little boy named Andrew left behind in the orphanage.

“He’s in my mind today,” says Taylor. “Every day we visited the orphanage, Andrew would smile shyly at us, as if asking ‘What about me?’ I don’t know what happened to him, but chances are he didn’t get adopted.”

The unfairness of the situation prompted Taylor to action. He and his wife founded Pathways for Little Feet, a nonprofit that encourages families to adopt by providing interest-free loans, education, and advocacy.

“There are 10-14 million voiceless children trapped in these hell holes around the world. We knew we would only be one arrow in the quiver to rescue the Andrews of the world, but we had to do our best to help,” says Taylor, who is also founder of AmREIT, a NYSE-listed company he sold in February 2015 to EDENS (Blackstone, J.P. Morgan, and NYSTRS). Recently, Taylor founded Rowland Taylor, LLC, a real estate investment company in Houston, Texas.

AmREIT was in its thirteenth year when Taylor and his wife went to Moscow in 1998 to adopt then-22-month-old Christina. Initially reluctant to begin the adoption process, Taylor recalls the experience as life changing.

“We immediately fell in love with her, and when we brought her back we started donating to orphan-care projects,” he remembers.

Some of the donations were used wisely, but others less so. Taylor contributed to a not-for-profit to help pay airfare to bring orphans to the United States for month-long summer vacations with prospective adopting families. The program ran so well, he doubled his loan the following year.

“The recycling of the capital was a stewardship model we thought highly efficient and capable of helping many children,” says Taylor. “Then, a middleman ran away with the money, and I thought, ‘Oh goodness, this reminds me that due diligence is equally critical for nonprofits as for for-profits.”

The shyster episode motivated Taylor to start Pathways for Little Feet in 2008. Intended to be a family’s last step in its adoption journey, Pathways, funded by Taylor and a group of donors, is essentially a private, interest-free, nonprofit bank providing loans of up to $7,500 for credit-worthy families.

“In essence, we’re a bank for orphans. If a family passes our background check and credit review, and gets approval by an adoption agency, we will help them close the financial gap. It’s not a grant. It’s a loan based on the do-unto-others belief system,” he says.

To date, Pathways has funded more than 250 family loans, and the organization has helped more than 300 children in orphanages across the United States and in 35 countries.

“There is a great need among middle-income families – postmen, teachers, pastors – who have the heart for these kids, but are often short on the money to bring them home,” he says.

Pathways wouldn’t have enjoyed such early success were it not for HBS and the OPM program, Taylor says. Classmates helped him network and even donated to the cause while the staff at Baker Library assisted with research. Professors Cynthia Montgomery, director of research at HBS, and Lynda Applegate, faculty chair of the OPM program, were invaluable in helping Taylor sharpen his vision for the mission.

“Lynda encouraged the idea of taking a public company like AmREIT and building an incubator charity alongside it. She felt an entrepreneurial, charitable initiative would enhance the overall organization, and she was right. She would ask: ‘If your organization was to suddenly disappear, would the world shed a tear?’ I always liked her thought-provoking metaphor.”

Honing Pathways’ mission is an ever work in progress. Taylor and his team recognize that emotional support for the children is as important as financial assistance. Pathways’ next chapter includes establishing counseling services for adoptees and their families.

“When you bring a child out of an orphanage, there are emotional issues that often must be confronted. We can’t just sprinkle fairy dust on the child and hope all will be okay.”

The work is daunting, but Taylor is heartened every Wednesday, the day when Pathways’ partners meet to approve loan requests. The magic happens on the 10th floor in an office across from Rowland Taylor’s headquarters in Houston. One week there was a “yes” for a carpenter and his wife from Virginia who adopted a 16-year-old and another “yes” to a couple who wanted to bring a boy with special needs home from Asia.

“These families are not wealthy – they have very little in cash savings – but they have enormous hearts and decided this kid is their kid,” says Taylor. “At the end of the day, it changes lives like you cannot imagine.”

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