Joe Hallemeier learned about Community Living’s SOAR program from a friend when he was a teenager. After one summer on the program’s support staff, he was hooked. “I became friends with the people I worked with outside of Community Living. We would hang out after work,” he said. “We all still keep in touch on Facebook.” That sense of community didn’t end with his coworkers. He remembers being invited to the participants’ birthday parties after work and on the weekends and recalls everyone being “super helpful and understanding” when the group would go on field trips. “The community made the job a lot more fun,” he said.

When the summer came to a close, Joe was headed off to college. His mom was a teacher and he “grew up in her classroom,” so he knew he wanted to go into education, too. He says spending time with kids with disabilities helped him narrow his focus by giving him the confidence that he’d be comfortable working with that population for eight hours a day. “I picked Special Education as my major at Mizzou and spent the next four years going to Mizzou and then in the summertime, I would come back to St. Charles and work at Community Living.”

“I picked Special Education as my major at Mizzou and spent the next four years going to Mizzou and then in the summertime, I would come back to St. Charles and work at Community Living.”

Joe spent four years as support staff before working his way up to a Site Specialist role where he got to do more creative activity planning. He was able to use his position to bring some of his brainstormed ideas to life. He said that if the staff could find a way to make an idea work, they usually did it. “We were rarely told no,” he remembers. One of his favorite memories was an outing he helped to coordinate. “We took a group of kids out on The Meremac on a float trip,” he said. “That float trip was the best time ever.”

Combined with setting goals for participants and keeping track of documentation and medication, Joe was well-prepared when he stepped into the classroom after earning his degree. He remembers being asked about his experience in interviews and joked, “I almost had too much.” He quickly settled in as a Special Education Teacher in the St. Charles School District.

Between teaching and coaching, he knew he wouldn’t be able to return to camp for another year, but another opportunity emerged. One of his campers, AJ, was giving a speech about the fun he’d had over the summer during one of Community Living’s Board of Directors meetings. “He cracks me up and I wanted to go listen to him talk.” During the meeting, it was announced that there was a new opening on the Board. After the meeting, he met with the organization’s President and CEO, Barb Griffith, to see if he might be a fit. Barb took him on a tour of all the programs and services Community Living offers. “I really only knew of SOAR,” he said. “When I saw all that, the big picture, I said ‘Barb, I need to be involved in this. Please let me. I promise I’ll have some input and be an effective member of the Board.'” He, of course, was a perfect fit.

“I knew I needed to be involved in this.”

When asked if he had any words of wisdom for this year’s camp staff, he said “You’re helping kids during their formative years have a lot of experiences they, unfortunately, might not get if it weren’t for Community Living’s programs. If you weren’t involved, these kids might not ever get to go on a roller coaster or know what it’s like to go to a baseball game.”

Joe recently transitioned to the role of Assistant Principal at DuBray Middle School in the Fort Zumwalt School District. He still serves on Community Living’s Board of Directors, adding his expertise to the diverse background of its members.

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