The doctor who diagnosed Taylor Harkins told his parents not to expect much.
The boy was dyspraxic, which means he had a brain disorder that made him extremely clumsy. He had Asperger Syndrome, which is what doctors once called a form of autism that described Taylor difficulty reading social cues and anti-social behavior. He was hyperactive. He had a low I.Q. score. Later, he would be diagnosed with epilepsy.
His disabilities would prevent him from attending typical school classes, from driving a car, from connecting with people, from participating in so much of life.
淒o not,?Dr. Martin Baren, a behavioral pediatrician, told Taylor parents in the early 1980s, 渆xpect him to take care of himself.?/p>
Baren died in 2008 at age 75.
Clyde Harkins, Taylor father, wishes that Baren was still around.
wish he could see my son now,?Clyde said. think he would be impressed.?/h2>
Taylor Harkins, 36, has created a niche for himself after so many years of struggling. He has become a star in the most unlikely place, a warehouse in Santa Ana where he is a model for e-commerce businesses around the United States. When CEOs visit Shop Goodwill in Santa Ana, the tour always stops in Taylor lair, where he creates worlds that blow their minds.
It all started because he wore a Marvel T-shirt to work.
Taylor Harkins works to reassemble Lego kits that have been donated to Goodwill in Santa Ana. The 36-year-old man has had trouble holding a job until he created a position as Lego assembler at Goodwill. He takes Lego donations and makes them into elaborate buildings, vehicles and characters. Goodwill then resells the creations online. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Taylor Harkins uses Lego books as a resource as he reassemble Lego kits that have been donated to Goodwill in Santa Ana. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Taylor Harkins searches for Lego pieces as he works to reassemble Lego kits that have been donated to Goodwill.(Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Taylor Harkins shows off his favorite Lego minifigure, Batman. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Taylor Harkins works to reassemble Lego kits that have been donated to Goodwill in Santa Ana. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Taylor Harkins shows off some of his favorite Lego minifigures at his workspace in Goodwill warehouse in Santa Ana, California, on Thursday, October 26, 2017. The 36-year-old man has had trouble holding a job until he created a position as Lego assembler at Goodwill. He takes Lego donations and makes them into elaborate buildings, vehicles and characters. Goodwill then resells the creations online. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Taylor Harkins created his own workspace to reassemble Lego kits that have been donated to Goodwill in Santa Ana, California, on Thursday, October 26, 2017. The 36-year-old man has had trouble holding a job until he created a position as Lego assembler at Goodwill. He takes Lego donations and makes them into elaborate buildings, vehicles and characters. Goodwill then resells the creations online. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Something was wrong
Taylor Harkins was born blue.
He had swallowed his own bowel movement in the womb and had choked for just long enough to sustain a serious injury.
His parents, Clyde and Judy, knew their newborn son was in distress, but they had no idea how much trauma he had endured. When they took him home from the hospital, they thought they had a healthy, happy baby.
As he grew, Taylor looked like any typical kid.
But something was wrong. He was so clumsy, and when he fell, he didn put his hands down to break his fall. He spilled things at dinner. He didn learn at the same pace as other kids. He got so frustrated when he couldn participate in games.
He threw incredible fits.
Dr. Baren gave them the bleak news, telling them to prepare for the worst.
y heart went out to (Taylor),?Clyde said. felt like a failure that I couldn help Taylor more. I spent so much time trying to get people to understand.?/p>
Clyde remembers thinking: he future is going to be extremely challenging to him. Can he hold a job? That was the big question.?/p>
Clyde tried to bond with his son over superheroes. He bought Batman and Joker and tar Wars?figurines. His mother, Judy, said when Taylor was 4,e would create elaborate scenes and scenarios?with superheroes and figurines.
atman has always been my favorite,?Taylor said.e the best superhero out there. He a regular human being, but he a detective and a ninja.?/p>
Clyde bought Lego sets.
would put them together, and Taylor would watch,?Clyde said. 淓ventually, he would build his own. He became obsessed with Legos.?/p>
Taylor graduated from Foothill High School special education program in 2000. That was a scary time for his parents, who wanted their son to learn to be independent. They signed Taylor up for a job training program at the Goodwill. He was placed in several jobs.
It didn go well.
He worked at Petco and Auto Zone. He has little sense of time, and he continuously showed up to work late. He was fired from both.
淗e extremely talkative,?Clyde said. told him, oue not supposed to be talking, youe supposed to be stocking.??/p>
In a job at Sears, he hurt his back unloading refrigerators. He had to quit.
A couple of other employers went belly-up, including the time Clyde hired his son to work in the mail room for his mortgage company. In the recession of 2008, the family business went south.
It wasn until 2011 that Taylor got another job. Clyde helped him get back in the Goodwill program. He is one of 49 developmentally disabled people working in the Shop Goodwill warehouse. That about one-third of the Shop Goodwill warehouse workforce.
And still, he wasn successful.
He was working in computer repair, and he hated it.
t was really really boring,?Taylor said.
e found his world?/p>
In 2011, Ted Mollenkramer took over as business operations manager at Shop Goodwill in Santa Ana. Shop Goodwill is an online auction, like a scaled-down eBay operation. Donations (books, jewelry, sports equipment, compact discs, bicycles, toasters, everything) come in, they are cleaned up, sorted, re-packaged, sold and shipped out.
Mollenkramer quickly saw a potential money-maker: Legos.
In the old days, Legos were donated by the bucket-load. They were simply placed in bags and sold like so much dirt.
Mollenkramer knew that if he could find someone to put the Legos together into shapes like the Millennium Falcon or the Simpsons?house, he could make a lot of money.
If only there was someone who could assemble Legos ?/h2>
That when Mollenkramer saw a guy in the computer department in a Marvel T-shirt. He and Taylor started talking about superheroes and Legos. Taylor showed him cellphone pictures of his Lego designs.
Taylor, at the same time, was close to being fired from the computer department.
淗is boss was happy to give him up,?said Mollenkramer, who created a one-man Lego department.
Taylor started to take the random Legos and build them into things that collectors might like to buy. He looks a little like a mad scientist surrounded by boxes of Legos which he picks through to find the perfect piece. He works with a counselor, Isaac Harmon, who helps Taylor when he feels like melting down.
淗e found his world, and the collectors started going gaga,?Mollenkramer said.
Taylor built a chess set out of tar Wars?Legos with the good guys lined up against the bad guys. It sold for $350.
he Legos are money-making machines,?Mollenkramer said.
Shop Goodwill sells books for an average of $10.15 and collectibles sell for an average of $24.36. Taylor Lego creations (his originals and his copies of Lego sets) sell for an average of $43.16. He has a 100 percent sell-through rate. Taylor, who makes minimum wage, works five hours per day and makes about 20 Lego designs per shift.
t so nice that other people consider what he does as valuable,?Judy said.
Today, Taylor is known as Shop Goodwillirector of Legoland,?where he, like some superhero, saves discarded Legos and makes oodles of money. Not only has he had an impact on Shop Goodwill in Santa Ana, he has become a model for how Goodwill stores around the United States handle Legos.
ou give Taylor a little bag of Legos that we might sell for $2.99, and hel turn it into $200,?Mollenkramer said.
Shop Goodwill went from $1 million in revenue to $6 million in five years.
Working with Legos has changed Taylor life.
t easy for my mind,?Taylor said. t takes my mind to another place. It keeps my mind in sync.?/p>
His dream, he said, is to create a einfeld?Lego world featuring Jerry apartment and the diner.
his has been the best job for me,?Taylor said.
That price point has attracted the attention of other Goodwill operations. Mollenkramer said other states are now designing Legos to sell to collectors thanks to Taylor example.
e call Legos our plastic gold,?Mollenkramer said. 淧eople go crazy over Legos.?/h2>
he Master Builder?/p>
Taylor lives in Costa Mesa with his brother and 6-year-old nephew, who calls his uncle he Master Builder.?/p>
He takes the bus to work in the morning. And he getting there on time.
He appears to be happier than he ever been.
淗is self-image and self-worth have gone off the charts,?Clyde Harkins said.e still has a ton of challenges. But he head of the Lego Department. He feels like he valued.