I accepted a position to teach 6th grade math at Maplewood-Richmond Heights elementary school in April 2012. I was intrigued by the district’s initiatives and programs that supported the learning and life needs of students. The most intriguing, perhaps, was a program called Joe’s Place.
Joe’s Place offers homeless teenage boys in the Maplewood-Richmond Heights School District a caring home environment that supports them in graduating from high school and creating positive futures. I spent my first two years in the district getting used to my curriculum and my life working with adolescents. I loved working with my unique students and their families, and while I certainly worked hard and received some satisfaction, I wanted something more… and so did my soon-to-be wife.
So, in January 2014 (four months into our marriage), we agreed to apply to be house parents at Joe’s Place. We had no children, a dog, and we’d just moved into our beautiful downtown loft. However, when life hands you an opportunity, you’ve got to strike quickly. Application led to interview, interview to job offer, and by July we were moving into our new home and beginning our journey as house parents. The experience has been AMAZING! We’ve certainly had our ups (with six of our boys graduating from high school) and our downs (the death of one of our boys this past spring), but we’d never trade our experiences for anything. We were fortunate enough to welcome Harris, our first son, into the world in the spring of 2016, and this has been the icing on the cake. To watch our boys connect with and show love to our son has been the best part of our experience.
Joe’s Place eliminates the limits on the school district to do something more for its students. Through love, support and community, students are given everything they need to be able to just be students. They are given stability and support to help them get more involved in school, strengthen their ties with their families, and meet their basic needs so they don’t have to fight so hard to meet them on their own.
Joe’s Place elevates the phrase “It takes a village” to a whole new level. The people of the Maplewood-Richmond Heights School District and the Joe’s Place partners make the program what it is. We always acknowledge our community and our board of directors because while we may do the day-to-day work, all of these stakeholders work to handle the larger details so we can focus on the daily concerns. Education often goes beyond the classroom for students and for staff members all of the time, and this program’s unique approach is one I am lucky to be a part of!