Brian Underwood: Odyssey turns into a love story for Sierra Lutheran alum
If Homer wrote the Odyssey today, he might very well title it, The Love Story.
The ancient Greek epic poem that chronicles Odysseus’ 10-year journey back from the Trojan War to the Island of Ithaca and his beloved wife and son is, among other things, a love story. And in many ways literally and figuratively parallels the odyssey Taylor Love has been on the past few years.
The 2008 Sierra Lutheran High School graduate, who served five years in the Marines before finishing his service in 2017 with the rank of captain, served during several global conflicts before finding his heart on an island, like that of the Island of Bastimentos, Bocas Del Toro, Panama.
Love’s mistress was not of the flesh, but rather discovered through serving children on this remote Panamanian island, and others in the chain a world away from his Genoa roots through a non-profit known as Give and Surf, which engenders sustainable living solutions for the community. And similar to Homer’s epic hero, the journey has provided great discovery.
“The plan I came up with my last months in the Marines was to travel for several months, and after my travels I would become a bona fide salesman,” Love shared via email recently of his wayfaring agenda before joining his oldest brother, Chad, selling information technology stateside.
Of the two trips he had planned, the first included bodysurfing the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica with this dad and three brothers before they headed home and he continued south. It was there he found Give and Surf, and his destiny operated on the archipelago.
Give and Surf’s two-part name denotes its dual purpose. In its giving, the organization is focused on providing sustainable empowerment to communities of Bocas del Toro, Panama, through education, self-determined community development, and positive respect of culture and traditions. Inclusion of the word Surf seeks to promote eco-tourism for those who are traveling, and surfing gives them the opportunity to surf and give back.
“My one month with Give and Surf changed my perspective of the world,” Love explained. “During my time volunteering, we spent much time with very poor indigenous Ngobe (“know-bay”) communities, however, in the midst of their poverty their happiness and appreciation for life was greater than any other people I have met.
“I went there to help but when I left I realized that they taught me more about life when it comes to simplicity, family, and altruism than I could ever teach them.”
Love’s real education was subsequently received through the clarity he experienced upon realizing the difference between success versus significance, or that of the contrast of what one takes from life opposed to what he or she gives back.
“I returned back to the States and began to work a sales job,” the Genoa native said. “The issue I quickly discovered was that I was no longer motivated by money. I wanted to learn more, not earn more.”
Eight months later, Love got his wish when he received a phone call from the volunteer director at Give and Surf.
“(He) notified me that their was the position of volunteer coordinator opened up and he thought I was perfect for it,” Love said. “I walked into the office the next week and quit my job.”
And while this protagonist did not have to battle with Polyphemus the cyclops or a storm sent by Poseidon on the way back to his island, he did have a lot to learn.
Since returning, Love has become a self-described “jack of all trades” that also includes being an official Panamanian boat captain, all of which he uses as the organization’s volunteer director.
“I am responsible to coordinate (volunteers), along with pre/post trip communication,” the sociology/criminal justice major from Point Nazarene University explained. “This involves developing volunteer schedules for individual volunteers and groups, I participate in the classrooms teaching with the volunteers, and act as a tour guide on the islands.”
The simple summary of his role directing volunteers belies the dizzying and true depth of Love’s responsibilities. He is hands-on with everything from juggling logistics for 1,000 students spread between 10 communities on six islands; to managing a community garden in the Ngobe community of Bahia Honda where he teaches composting and modern permaculture techniques; to teaching Lego engineering, English, and STEM classes at community centers; to supervising two preschools and their curriculum.
“I realize now how privileged I was to receive the education that I did and to have studied in a university. Many children here do not have that opportunity here to better their lives and current status,” Love reflected when speaking of the 15 percent of Ngobe who continue education past the sixth grade.
“When given the chance, they pursue it relentlessly. To them it is not a piece of paper or a check in the box, it’s a way out. A way to feed their children and put a roof over their head.”
And as if all this isn’t exhausting enough, Love has two other special projects he’s overseeing and wants to be on solid footing before he considers what’s next for him.
“I am currently working on two programs that are near and dear to my heart, and I would like to stay here until I see them come to fruition,” Love said. “We have currently partnered with Camp Pendleton to offer veterans a chance to volunteer with us. It’s an opportunity for them to unwind, use their skills they have learned in the Marines to help the children of Panama, and to see life from a different perspective.
“We would (also) like to transform the community garden into a model for reforestation that is aimed to help small-scale farmers utilizing the agroforestry method, SALT. Once we have received enough funding to start the project ($15,000), two local farmers will be hired by Give and Surf to become subject matter experts in permaculture and will use the community garden as a model to instruct fellow farmers.”
At the end of the Odyssey, Odysseus wins a contest to prove who he is, slays the suitors of his wife, and recaptures the throne of Ithaca. The modern version extols many of the same virtues found in its protagonist, such as endurance, loyalty, ingenuity, and, of course, love.
But while both heroes made their way back to the islands and people they held dear, a fundamental difference separates them. One was an Odyssey, the other is a Love Story.
Give & Surf invites high school groups and alumni to help with its educational programs. For information, contact Taylor Love at firstname.lastname@example.org, 507-6165-9954, or on WhatsApp.