Since then the Reis family has not been the same. Kathy, Joe and daughters Jessica, Michelle and Gina got to know Hammer residents. “They (the three girls) learned that people can be different, and it’s okay,” Joe Reis said.
The Reis family found many friends.
And Joe was inspired by knowing Hammer residents such as Don Rudd, who died recently. For many years Rudd worked at McDonald’s Restaurant in Excelsior. He always had a smile for people, shook hands and “inspired people in his own way,” Joe said.
Joe recalled what Rudd’s sister Mindy said in her eulogy at his funeral, “I thought I was taking care of Don. He really was taking care of me.”
Joe used Rudd’s story as a way of explaining why the Reis family has continued to volunteer at Hammer Residences for over two decades. Their long-time involvement also explains why Hammer recently gave Joe and Kathy its Hammer Community Partner Award, given annually to those who exemplify the dedication, selflessness and sense of philanthropy that is embodied by the Hammer organization. Hammer provides services for adults and children with developmental disabilities.
Joe said he and Kathy have not volunteered to get awards. “We do it because it is the right thing to do,” he said. “My parents taught me that. Kathy’s parents taught her that. You give more than you get.”
Joe has been as a member of the Hammer board of directors for four years, including service as an executive committee member, treasurer and head of the financial committee. Kathy continues as a volunteer and daughter Gina has used her skills as a freelance video editor to produce videos for Hammer and also has done much more.
Lately Joe has put to use for Hammer his knowledge of finances that began with his college education. He received a bachelor of science in business administration from Fairfield University in Connecticut. He started his work life as a certified public account and quickly moved to real estate. For eight years he was executive vice-president of Burnet Financial Group and since 1990 has held the title of chief executive officer of Coldwell Banker Burnet — over-seeing 23 Coldwell Banker Burnet offices and over 2,000 sales associates.
His main commute is from his Medina home to his Edina office but he also travels to a number of states.
He has a long-standing interest in organizations that assist families and children. He is a past president and board member for Washburn Center for Children, which provides counseling for children and families in need “when they don’t know what to do.” Also, he is past vice-chair and board member for Children’s Home Society and Families members. And he is an active member and volunteer at Holy Name Church.
The Reverend Arnold Weber at Holy Name was a motivating force in getting the church involved at Hammer Residences. “Father Arnold was a big influence in our lives,” Joe said. “We owe him a lot.”
Meanwhile, Kathy has made volunteerism her career. While her daughters were in school, she was focused on helping out there. When Gina was an Orono High School student, Orono Public Schools named Kathy as Volunteer of the Year. Currently, she volunteers as a mentor for young girls and women at Hope For Tomorrow and also serves on the Hope board. Her other volunteer work is with reading programs and the Assistance League.
In his work life, Joe is continuing the tradition of Coldwell Banker Burnet of “giving back in the communities where we prosper.” One way is through the Coldwell Banker Burnet Foundation. So his work life parallels his volunteer life.
Mostly Joe preferred to talk about Hammer Residences, which is in its 90th year. Alvina Hammer founded the organization to offer people with disabilities the opportunity to thrive in a school and home setting. She said that people don’t need to be institutionalized. A better way is to focus on their abilities rather than their disabilities.
Hammer has over 40 home and apartment programs serving over 200 people as well as a program that provides home services for over a hundred more people, according to Joe. Hammer Travel for four to five years has provided opportunities for people with disabilities to enjoy trips and vacations.
Hammer’s website talks about its mission, “Respecting abilities, reaching for opportunities, realizing dreams.” Joe said that this is more than a motto. The organization exists to help a person “experience life to the fullest for that individual, to help them reach their dreams.”
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