By Joe Reis, Hammer Board of Directors and CEO of Coldwell Banker Burnet

4:45 am and Karen was ready to go! Matter of fact, I think she had been preparing to go for years. The February cold did not deter her spirit at all. Her dream of going to New York City, seeing a Broadway show and auditioning at the Apollo Theater was about to come true!

Back to the trip in a moment…

Hammer is a special place to my family and me. My wife Kathy and I have been volunteers for 25 years. We were first introduced to the organization and its work for those with developmental disabilities through Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church in Medina. It was Fr. Arnold Weber and fellow parishioner Tom Silver (one of the more giving men I know) who recruited us with the promise of “fulfillment through giving back.” We agreed to become part of the ministry, assisting those served at Hammer with transportation to Mass, faith sharing and fellowship on Sunday mornings and at various events. Over the years our three daughters also got involved, and I know we have all found fulfillment! We had no idea this ministry would lead to a lifelong relationship with Hammer and its incredible mission.

karen airportOK, back to Karen and her trip. Karen lives in a Hammer-supported apartment in Crystal. She is a talented singer and performer who has appeared in numerous productions at the Interact Center for the Visual and Performing Arts (which explains her love of Broadway and desire to see New York City). So, at last year’s Reach for Ralph benefit, Kathy and I made a personal commitment to help make Karen’s dream come true. We had the pleasure of providing the ride to the airport that cold morning, the start of Karen’s five day trip. At her side was Kelly Bosch, the manager of Karen’s apartment program and friend – a wonderful young woman dedicated to Karen and others at Hammer and the primary force in helping Karen realize her dream.

The early morning drive was full of conversation about travel logistics, the hotel, the show (Mama Mia), the Apollo, the cold and what to expect in the Big Apple. There was a mix of emotions as we pulled up to the airport and unloaded luggage – lots of excitement, lots of joy, and some apprehension.

Kathy and I were full of excitement too as we talked about Karen, Kelly, Hammer’s work, and the pure joy we had just witnessed. For us, the “why” behind Hammer was evident once again. It’s not about the disability; it’s about the ability, and providing opportunities to lead life to its fullest. And, it’s the people at Hammer that make it all possible – former CEO Tim Nelson, current CEO John Estrem, Chief Program Director Lisbeth Vest Armstrong, Program Managers, Direct Support Professionals, volunteers, fellow Board members, and donors who all do so much to make sure that the mission continues every day. We are so blessed to be a small part of it all.

karen lunchKelly did a wonderful job of documenting the trip and bringing it to life for all of us. Please check out her blog from a few months ago. A week or two after the trip, Kathy and I had a wonderful lunch with Karen, Kelly and Chief Development Officer Ellen Timmermann-Borer. Photos were shared and Karen walked us through her “what I liked best” list from trip. At the top of the list were things like: spa time at the hotel, the ride from the airport to the hotel, auditioning at the Apollo, pizza in bed, dancing in the aisles at Mama Mia and just taking in the New York City sights. Lunch ended with more thank you’s and hugs, and Karen let us know that she would, without a doubt, go back to New York again!

With Reach for Ralph less than one week away, Kathy and I cannot wait to help Hammer “imagine the possibilities” of lives fulfilled for each one of the individuals they support. I am once again honored to represent my company, Coldwell Banker Burnet, as the event’s presenting sponsor. It is a privilege to personally and professionally help an organization that has meant so much to me over the past 25 years.