MASC Honored with Special OlympicsMissouri’s Highest Organizational Honor

2013 Award of Excellence Winner

(Jefferson City) The Missouri Association of Student Councils was recognized for its outstanding contributions to Special Olympics Missouri at the 2014 SOMO Annual Awards Luncheon Jan. 18 in Branson. Each year, Special Olympics Missouri salutes those who have made significant contributions to the Special Olympics movement. Past honorees have included Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri/Illinois Dodge Dealers and more.

The Missouri Association of Student Councils chose Special Olympics Missouri as its 276814_150724721653485_1011487159_n[1]charity of choice 20 years ago. Since that time students have been raising funds and awareness in junior highs and high schools across the state. Member schools are encouraged to assist with Special Olympics events in their areas. Many of the schools host events, volunteer at events, do fundraisers, participate in the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign and take the Polar Plunge. The students volunteer an average of 12,000 hours a year equating to 240,000 hours they have given to Special Olympics Missouri.

In 2009, MASC stepped up its commitment and really promoted the Polar Plunge. That year, 700 youth raised more than $99,000. Schools are being creative with how they raise the money and they have even started competitions between other, rival schools. There are two schools in the Kansas City Metro Area who year after year bring between $20,000 and $30,000 together because of their spirited rivalry and commitment to Special Olympics Missouri. The momentum schools have generated since 2009 has resulted in a grand total of more than $490,000 being raised just through the Polar Plunge. This amount does not include all the other fundraising the individual schools do throughout the year.

MASC promotes and teaches acceptance, respect and inclusion for all. Our athletes are included in the MASC Summer Leadership Workshop where they work side by side with their peers developing their leadership skills, confidence and building a bridge of acceptance and change for all. The interaction between the youth leaders and the athletes is amazing! Athletes grow from timid, unsure individuals to outgoing, confident leaders who are ready to get involved with their student council as representatives, run for office and plan school activities. Youth leaders learned to embrace individual differences and the value of inclusion.

MASC is educating the leaders of our future to be agents of change, fostering respect and dignity for through service to others.

MASC Executive Director Terri Johnson was on hand to receive the award on behalf of the participating schools around the state.

For information about Special Olympics Missouri, the Annual Award recipients or the 2014 SOMO Summit, please contact Brandon Schatsiek at 573-635-8233 or


Coach McCullick stands out by blending in

This is the third in a series of stories compiled by Special Olympics Missouri to highlight those people within the organization who are doing great things. The Special Olympics Missourian of the Month will highlight an athlete, coach, family or volunteer who the SOMO staff members believe embody what the mission is all about. This month, the Southwest Area has singled out coach Julie McCullick of El Dorado Springs as the December Special Olympics Missourian of the Month.

Usually when someone has made a name for themselves, or if their reputation precedes them, it’s typically because they have gone out of their way to make sure people notice them.

With Julie McCullick, it’s quite the opposite.


Julie McCullick

As a Special Olympics Missouri coach of more than 20 years, McCullick has gone out of her way to not be singled out for her hard work on behalf of all of her athletes. She keeps her head down and powers through without needing praise or validation to continue her pursuit of making sure her athletes receive the best support possible.

She does it all for the 25 athletes at her agency – Partners In Your Community.

And that’s exactly why she’s being honored as the Special Olympics Missourian of the Month for December.

“She does not always stand out because she just blends in and sometimes the best (like her) get overlooked because they just never need to be told to do things; they just do them,” said Robin Anderson, Southwest Area Development Director. “She is good because she cares. She rarely needs much assistance because she does it correct the first time.

“She has just always been a great coach and person and that can sometimes blend in.”

Whatever needs to be done

As owner of Partners In Your Community, McCullick works with individuals with intellectual disabilities to give them the proper assistance they need to live on their own.

Some of those individuals she assists with their living situation while at work also end up being some of her athletes.

According to her PIYC employees, she’s sees that the two go hand-in-hand and she’s equally dedicated to both.

“What I think separates Julie from other coaches is that she completely enjoys the entire experience,” said fellow SOMO coach and PIYC employee Julie Deckard. “She is the boss of Partners and would not have to go at all, but she chooses not only to go, but to take care of all of the work involved without ever complaining.”

“She is never demanding or critical (of the athletes). She makes it her goal to make sure each and every one of the athletes are having a good time.”

McCullick has never been afraid to go that extra mile if she knows that it will make even the smallest difference for her athletes – or any athlete for that matter.

“She will assist with the ramp, carry balls and shoes or bags not only for our clients, but for anyone who she sees is needing some help,” said SOMO coach and PIYC employee Paulette Fishburn.

“She is there when they receive their medals and takes pictures of them to give each athlete a copy. Julie encourages anyone who is not bowling well and will stay by them to talk through it.”

An example of McCullick’s commitment to doing whatever it takes for her athletes can be seen with one particular athlete whom Deckard said “absolutely loves to bowl,” but can sometimes lose control of himself.

On the trips to and from Special Olympics Missouri events, the athlete has had several accidents, so others suggested maybe he should only go to the events close to home. McCullick doesn’t want to hear any of that.

“Julie has a very nice, pretty new truck and she puts him in her truck each time. We have had to stop several times to clean up her truck, clean the athlete and change his clothes, but she doesn’t bat an eye, she just jumps in and gets it taken care of and off we go,” Deckard said.

“I have never once seen her ask anyone else to do this. … I think that is pretty amazing, especially since she is the owner and boss of the company and wouldn’t have to ever be hands on.”

Best of the best

If Marguerite Goodwin could have it her way, she’d want every coach to be exactly like McCullick.

Goodwin’s son, Paul, 53, has been involved with SOMO since the beginning in 1971 and has been through her fair share of coaches over the year, but according to her, McCullick is the best.

“She’s just generally a very caring person and she’s real patient to try to understand and deal with not only difficult athletes, but parents as well,” Goodwin said. “She wants the events to, above anything else, be cheerful.”

McCullick takes the time to really teach the athletes and make sure they improve in every facet of their lives.

“It amazes me when they go up to bowl and the improvement the participants have made. She’s always very encouraging even if they think they can’t do it, she talks them into it,” Goodwin said. “She’s very outgoing, but not pushy. She just watches them and certainly helps them when she thinks some improvements could be made.

“Julie is absolutely amazing.”

She is who she is

According to the people closest to McCullick, it sounds like she really is everything she preaches.

“She always has a smile on her face,” Fishburn said. “She has many things planned to do with the athletes even when they aren’t (competing).”

It’s the fun-loving part of her personality that allows her to truly enjoy every aspect of coaching in Special Olympics.

“Julie is just a friendly, upbeat and caring person,” Deckard said. “She doesn’t ever hold herself above anyone else – athlete or staff.”

Most people change over time, but Deckard, who has known McCullick for 30 years and worked for her for more than eight, said she doesn’t believe McCullick has changed “at all.”

“She is the same person every time you see her. She has a big heart and is always keeping her staff’s and her clients’ welfare and safety in mind,” Deckard said. “She makes sure everyone is comfortable and having a great time.”

After 20 years of coaching bowling, basketball and track and field, McCullick said she most enjoys watching the athletes’ pride come through both on the field of competition and on the medal stands.

“I started coaching because no one in our small town was a coach and we had several athletes who wanted to get involved,” McCullick said.

“What keeps me involved is the athletes depend on me, and I don’t want to let them down.”

Officer Mark Wiesemann named 2013 Letz Award Winner

Congratulations to our “unsung hero” Officer Mark Wiesemann

Officer Mark Wiesemann of the Lee’s Summit Police Department was awarded the John Michael Letz Award, the highest award presented by the Missouri Law Enforcement Torch Run® program. Officer Wiesemann’s dedication to the Law Enforce Torch Run® (LETR) over the past 11 years has made all the difference, especially to the Special Olympics Missouri athletes in the KC Metro Area.

The John Michael Letz Award recognizes an individual whose unselfish efforts and Letz Awardcontributions are directly responsible for the success of the Law Enforcement Torch Run® for Special Olympics. The recipient is an individual who constantly works to do more, not for recognition, but rather in support of SOMO athletes.

On Dec. 12, Officer Wiesemann joined his colleagues as well as past recipients of the Letz Award at the 2013 Law Enforcement Torch Run Awards Ceremony held at the Capitol Plaza Hotel in Jefferson City. The 2012 Letz Award recipient, Sgt. Mark Koeller, acknowledged Wiesemann for his hard work and dedication. Exceeding the required criteria to receive this award, Wiesemann’s dedication includes serving as his agencies’ Torch Run Coordinator for the last 11 years. Under his direction, the agency raised more than $490,000 for Special Olympics Missouri. Of particular note, is his leadership as the chairman of the largest Polar Plunge event in the state. During the nine year history, this event generated more than $1,381,000 – and in 2013 hit an all-time high of $289,000. He also served for three years on the Games Management Team for SOMO’s State and Regional Basketball Tournaments. During the presentation in front of nearly 300 law enforcement peers and supporters, the Koeller said, “What sets Officer Wiesemann apart is his ability to bring people to the table who contribute in major ways to SOMO; he recruits leaders, sponsors, in-kind contributors, media partners and orchestrates it all in a fashion of “game day” for college football.”

The John Michael Letz Award, established in December 1994, is named after Mike Letz because of his long-time efforts while serving on the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. The St. Louis Trivia Night fundraiser was his creation and it continues today raising more than $160,000 since its inception. There are trivia nights all over Missouri as well as in other states now as a result of the one he started in St. Louis.

Missouri’s Law Enforcement Torch Run ranks No. 7 in the world for funds raised for Special Olympics – law enforcement’s charity of choice worldwide.

For more information about LETR or the LETR Conference including the Letz Award please visit contact Susan Stegeman, Vice President at (800) 846-2682 or

SOMOian of the Month (November): Matt Krippel, Athlete (St. Louis Metro Area)

This is the second in a series of stories compiled by Special Olympics Missouri to highlight those people within the organization who are doing great things. The Special Olympics Missourian of the Month will highlight an athlete, coach, family or volunteer who the SOMO staff members believe embody what the mission is all about. This month, the St. Louis Metro Area has singled out athlete Matt Krippel of Columbia, Ill., as the November Special Olympics Missourian of the Month.

Most Special Olympics athletes are lucky to have the opportunity to compete in one Special Olympics World Games in their lifetime; Matt Krippel has been good enough to compete in two – Minneapolis, Minn., and PyeongChang, South Korea.

 At the age of 43, Krippel has been an athlete with Special Olympics for more than 30 years. His mother, Joyce Krippel, knows that it’s something he’s not quite ready to give up.

 “He’s 43 and I keep asking him if he’s ready to quit. And I know that’s not even an option. But I ask him, and he says, ‘No mom, I like it.’”

His Journey

Krippel began competing with Special Olympics Missouri at the age of 14, and his love for sports has blossomed throughout his involvement. From softball, soccer and basketball to swimming, snow skiing and hockey, there isn’t a sport that Krippel doesn’t enjoy. According to his mother, however, basketball is his first and true love.  This can be partially attributed to his hero, Michael Jordan.

 “He wants to come back as a Michael Jordan,” his mother said. “There isn’t one thing in his room that doesn’t have Michael Jordan on it.”

Matt Krippel is such a great athlete that he even made a Wheaties box! Sure, it was with the help of Joe Koppeis, his boss from the local grocery store in Columbia, Ill., but not many athletes have had the honor of gracing the front of a Wheaties box.

Matt Krippel is such a great athlete that he even made a Wheaties box! Sure, it was with the help of Joe Koppeis, his boss from the local grocery store in Columbia, Ill., but not many athletes have had the honor of gracing the front of a Wheaties box.

 Krippel’s first trip to the Special Olympics World Games occurred during the summer of 1991 in Minneapolis – St. Paul, Minn., where, for the first time, he had the opportunity to swim against athletes from all over the world. More than 100 countries attended, and his mother gave him fair warning about the competitiveness of the athletes he would soon face.

 “I told him, Matthew there are kids that have learned to swim before you learned to walk. You’re going to have a tough time, because they’re good swimmers.”

 Krippel performed exceptionally well, winning various medals and ribbons in his events.  He did, however, lose in freestyle to an athlete from Barbados.

 “When we got back home, he got the world map out of the bookcase and asked me to show him where Barbados was,” said Joyce. “So I showed him that little dot in the Atlantic Ocean.”

It was this exact determination and competitiveness that drove Krippel to immediately accept an invitation to compete as an alpine skier in the Winter World Games this past January, despite only 34 days of advanced notice after another athlete had to drop out due to an injury. There was no hesitation. Krippel was eager to experience a World Games outside of his own country, and his mother said he even fought through his fear of shots to do so.

 “When I took him to his doctor and she said you have to get all of these shots before you go, he rolled up his sleeves with no problem.”

 The 2013 Special Olympic Winter World Games took place in PyeongChang, South Korea, and Krippel competed in various snow skiing events, winning both a silver medal in the Advanced Slalom competition and a gold medal in the Super G competition. Despite training and competing on the Missouri side of the border, Krippel was welcomed home to Columbia, Ill., with a parade led by Columbia Police and Fire Departments; he is a hometown hero to many.

 Because of these outstanding athletic achievements, Jocelyn Diehl, SOMO’s St. Louis Metro Program Director, nominated Krippel to be inducted into the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2013. He was awarded the Special Athlete of the Year award on Nov. 20, 2013.

Matt Krippel, back row, far right, poses for a photo with the rest of the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2013. Other inductees included Brett Hull, Joe Torre and many others.

Matt Krippel, back row, far right, poses for a photo with the rest of the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2013. Other inductees included Brett Hull, Joe Torre and many others.

 This award, as well as Krippel’s reputation as a model athlete, was the reason Diehl also nominated Krippel for SOMOian of the Month.

 “The St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame is an amazing honor and one only few athletes will experience,” Diehl said. “So I thought this month, in which he received that award, would be perfect to spotlight Matt Krippel. He’s been involved in the program for over 30 years, so he’s gotten many opportunities to compete, but he is so humble and thankful for each one.”

Outside of SOMO

 While sports still remain Krippel’s passion in life, he is involved in many different things outside of his commitment to Special Olympics.

 Krippel lives across the street from Columbia’s local fire department, and he has been awarded the title of honorary fireman.

 “I help out a lot. I have a pager, and when the pager goes off, I respond to the firehouse,” Krippel said. “I open the fire doors, and I help the firemen get their gear and stuff like that. And then they teach me how they run stuff.”

 Krippel has also held a job at Market Place, the local grocery store, for almost 25 years. He does various things around the store such as bagging, working in produce and customer service, and cleaning the parking lot. Joe Koppeis, owner of the local grocery store, praised Krippel’s work ethic and positive attitude.

 “He’s got a great work ethic,” said Koppeis. “He really works hard, and he really cares about what he’s doing. I’ve never had him say ‘No’ to anything.”

 In addition to all of this, Krippel also finds time to work with the basketball and football teams at Columbia High School. For more than 20 years, Krippel has worked closely with the football team, and over time he has evolved into the equipment manager.

 “He’s there for all the practices, all the games,” said Joyce. “He makes sure the boys have the water cooler filled, and he’s the ball boy that takes it out to the referee. They take him everywhere.”

 Krippel loves working with the team, and according to his mother, the team adores him too.  Krippel said that they even have a nickname for him.

 “They call me Coach Kripp.”

The All-Around Guy

 Although Krippel’s success as an athlete is definitely something to brag about, his overall character is what truly sets him apart from his peers.

 “I get on an elevator in St. Louis somewhere and Matt knows someone on that elevator,” said Joyce. “We go to Wisconsin to the Dells, and he knows somebody at the restaurant. This kid has so many friends and so many contacts.”

 This alone is a testament to how likeable Krippel truly is. Those that know him best can vouch for that. He is loved by everyone and is someone who never gets angry. His mother says she’s never even heard him say he doesn’t like somebody. He is loving, caring and on constant lookout for ways to help those around him.

 Krippel also has a desire to be active all the time, hence his passion for sports.

 “Sports are so very important to him,” Joyce said. “If he isn’t playing them, he’s watching them.”

 And what about his need to be active?

 “He can’t sit down for very long,” said Joyce. “Watching a movie is out of the question. There’s too much downtime.”

The Importance

 Matt Krippel is a dedicated athlete who is loved by many, and he shows no signs of giving up his passion anytime soon. This is because of how much Special Olympics means to him and his family, as well as the direction it has given him in his life.

Matt Krippel accepts his plaque that officially announces his reputation as a model athlete and the 2013 Special Athlete of the Year in St. Louis on Nov. 20, 2013.

Matt Krippel accepts his plaque that officially announces his reputation as a model athlete and the 2013 Special Athlete of the Year in St. Louis on Nov. 20, 2013.

 “I don’t know what I would have done without Special Olympics,” Joyce said. “I don’t know what he would have done. It’s a two-prong thing: It’s not just him and it’s not just me. It’s both of us that have been affected by Special Olympics.”

SOMO: It runs in the Lang family

Special Olympics runs in the family for the Langs of Dittmer, 30 miles southwest of St. Louis. Amanda, 21, plays as a Unified Partner with her brother Alex, 16. Amanda and Alex have been involved with Special Olympics for five years through NextStep for Life. Their mother also helps coach for the agency.

Alex and Amanda Lang share their love of Special Olympics Missouri

Alex competes in five sports through the agency: bocce, track & field, basketball, softball and flag football. Amanda joined the basketball team as a Unified Partner and was able to compete at State Summer Games, earning a silver medal. That competition proved to be one of her favorite moments with SOMO.“After receiving our silver medals at State Summer Games, I realized I wanted to be more involved with Special Olympics. I walked off the court when we finished and told my mom I wanted to be involved in Special Olympics like Terri [Dallas, Leisure Services Coordinator at NextStep for Life].”

Experiencing such a powerful moment, Amanda decided to change educational and career paths to continue involvement. “I transferred to Missouri State University and declared a double major in psychology and gerontology”, said Amanda. Her eventual goal is to work for an agency similar to NextStep for Life as a Recreation Coordinator.

Amanda says Special Olympics Missouri is important her and her family. “My experience with Special Olympics has had a great impact on my life. I love being able to help my athletes achieve their goals and have fun playing sports that they love.”

Amanda continued with, “[SOMO] is the most rewarding experience I have ever been a part of and I think once someone volunteers or begins coaching Special Olympics, it stays with you. You learn a lot about life, how to always have fun and enjoy every minute.”

What is your Special Olympics Missouri experience? How has Special Olympics Missouri impacted your life? Visit to tell us!

SOMO Athlete Raising “Buckets of Money” for Training for Life Campus

Jared Niemeyer makes his own fundraising plan

Jared Niemeyer with SOMO bucketJared Niemeyer is a familiar face around the Special Olympics community in Missouri. He’s competed for years in a variety of sports, served as a Global Ambassador and has again been tapped to represent SOMO at USA Games to compete in flag football.
But it’s Jared’s work in his kitchen that’s been turning heads around the state.
Jared put a large jar on a table in his kitchen and has been slipping coins and bills in it every chance he gets. When his brother comes home to visit, Jared hits him up for the money jar. Other visitors to the Niemeyers’ home have learned that Jared’s not shy about introducing them to the money jar, either.
A couple of years ago, at a SOMO Leadership Conference, Jared heard a recurring theme about the SOMO Training for Life Campus, the planned training center for SOMO athletes. He heard that SOMO will need “buckets of money” to make the campus happen, so Jared improvised a money jar to get the party started, as they say.
“Having the jar in our kitchen allows Jared to talk about the campus to visitors,” said Brenda Niemeyer, Jared’s mom. “He’s getting the word out to people involved in his life.” Jared, 22, lives with his family in Kirksville and works nearby.
Inside the jar, Jared also keeps a postcard with a picture of the planned Training for Life Campus.
The Training for Life Campus
The planned SOMO Training for Life Campus will serve current and future generations of individuals with intellectual disabilities, and will be the largest such facility in scope in the United States. The 44,000-square-foot Center will be set on an 11-acre campus between Columbia and Jefferson City, and will offer year-round training opportunities for athletes, coaches and volunteers throughout Missouri. We need to raise $12.5 million to make this a reality. If you’re interested in helping to fund this project, please contact Laurie Shadoan at or (913)789-0353.
For more than 40 years, our athletes, coaches, volunteers and staff have not had their own place to call home. Staff members have worked in borrowed or donated office space, while equipment and supplies were stored elsewhere. Athletes have trained and competed wherever open gyms or fields became available. Coaches and volunteers have followed them, relentlessly dedicated – and always cheerful – to bring athletes together for physical fitness, health & wellness screenings and social camaraderie. For SOMO athletes, this will be like U.S. Olympic Committee’s training facility in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
To learn more about the Training for Life Campus, visit or contact Laurie Shadoan at or (913)789-0353.
SOMO is proud to offer donors a generous tax benefit through our participation in the Neighborhood Assistance Program (NAP). When you make an eligible gift of $2,500+ to the campaign, the NAP tax credit allows you to subtract 50% of your total contribution from state taxes owed. To see if you qualify, visit  

SOMO(ian) of the Month: Justin Baker, Athlete (Central Area)

This is the first in a series of stories compiled by Special Olympics Missouri to highlight those people within the organization who are doing great things. The Special Olympics Missourian of the Month will highlight an athlete, coach, family or volunteer who the SOMO staff members believe embody what the mission is all about. This month, the Central Area has singled out athlete Justin Baker of Bunceton as the October Special Olympics Missourian of the Month.

Athletes aren’t supposed to be artistic.

Artists aren’t supposed to be athletic.

Individuals with intellectual disabilities aren’t supposed to be good at anything.

Justin Baker defies the traditional narrative.


State Track and Field (43)
Justin Baker waves to the camera at the 2013 Central Area Spring Games Track and Field competition.

At 26 years old, Baker is one of the most competitive athletes in the whole Central Area. Sure, most Special Olympics Missouri athletes are competitive by nature, but according to his coach, Lori Woods, Baker takes it to another level.

“What really sets him apart from the other athletes in the program is mainly his competitiveness,” Woods said. “He really wants to excel at everything he does. He likes to better himself.”

Judy Baker, Justin’s grandmother with whom he lives, said that competitive spirit has really been stoked and enhanced by participating in Special Olympics Missouri.

“SOMO has given him competition and that’s just great!” Judy said. “He’s committed to it and looks forward to it very much.”

But as competitive as Baker is, those around him say that he doesn’t let that affect his attitude toward other people.

Woods, Baker’s coach of more than 10 years, said he relishes the fact that his peers look up to him.

“He’s fun-loving, friendly and really likes to be a leader with his peers,” said Woods. “The main thing for him is for his peers to look up to him. They’re always competing against him in bowling and he enjoys teaching them.”

New Conveyor (15)

Baker, second from left, enjoys the company of his co-workers while at work at Unlimited Opportunities Inc. Baker, 26, has worked in the recycling department there since he graduated from high school.

That lead-first attitude is also on display at Unlimited Opportunities Inc., where Baker worked part-time for a number of years before graduating from Bunceton High School. He has since taken a full-time job in the recycling department where Recycling Manager Kit Brewer has had the opportunity to work with Baker.

“He’s just a very happy-go-lucky guy. He’s a really hard worker,” Brewer said. “He’s a guy that likes to work on all of our different processing lines and he’s certified on nearly every machine.

“He’s always willing to help and when we have a new person in here that needs to be taught how a machine works, he’s the first guy there to teach them.”

Another way SOMO has helped Baker blossom is through trying new and exciting things even those closest to him are surprised he’d try.

“He’s one of those people who won’t even get up on a ladder,” his grandmother said with a chuckle. “It shocked me he was going to do this, but he said, ‘I told them I promised I’d do it so I’m gonna do it!’ Justin was so nonchalant about it.”

Justin Baker

Baker poses for a photo with SOMO Partnership Manager Stacy Jones on Oct. 12 while at the Over the Edge event in Jefferson City.

Baker spent his day off rappelling down the Jefferson State Office Building in Jefferson City Oct. 12 as part of the SOMO fundraiser with Over the Edge. All of the money raised directly supported other SOMO athletes.

“Diane Brimer (Central Area Director) had a sponsor (Diamond Pet Foods) who donated the money to get any athlete to go over and she thought of Justin,” Woods said. “I asked him and he was pretty nervous, but he did it. We were surprised, but so proud.”

Of everything that Baker has accomplished, Judy and the Baker family are most impressed with how helpful and outgoing Justin has become.

“If he can help somebody, he is wonderful,” Judy said. “He likes to help people. He teaches some of the other athletes and is proud of that. He’ll do anything anybody ever asks him.”

In addition to excelling at sports such as bowling and track and field, Baker is a rather accomplished artist as well.

“He’s a really good artist,” Woods said. “He loves to draw. One of his goals … he says he likes to play that guitar so his goal is to become famous in the music industry.”

Brewer said Baker will often bring in some of his sketches to share with his co-workers.

“He also really enjoys writing poetry and song lyrics. It’s nice to see how he likes to write poetry and song lyrics. He’s a very talented guy,” Brewer said.

Growing up is never easy.

It’s not easy on the person doing the growing nor is it easy on the family dealing with said person.

Bowling Special Olympics 041

Baker, far right, poses for a photo with his fellow bowling teammates at a competition in 2008.

Since Baker started participating in Special Olympics Missouri more than 10 years ago, Judy said she’s seen a transition in him that was helped along because of SOMO.

“It’s a learning experience for all of us,” Judy said about raising a child with special needs. “We encourage him to do things, new things. I think he’s grown up a lot.”

One such recent instance of having to grow up is that Baker has been working for several years toward getting his driver’s license.

“He had a hard time getting his driver’s permit, but he finally got that and we’re going for the license now,” Judy said. “He drives with me on his way to and from work every day.

“We have family that really encourages him too. They all know his situation and like to encourage him.”

Judy said it hasn’t always been easy though.

“It’s sad that the circumstances he’s in, but we make the best of it,” she said. “He has his days sometimes, but we’ll let him know what he did wrong and talk to him about why he did this or said that; we talk it out.

“Practice makes it better.”

Judy said having such a close-knit family really helps.

The driver’s license will be one big step toward independence, but Judy said the biggest step for Baker could be right around the corner.

“He is looking forward to the day where he can get his own car and be off on his own,” she said. “That day might be coming sooner rather than later.

“We are incredibly proud of him and everything he has accomplished.”

That growth and maturity has also been seen by Brewer at work.

“Justin is still growing now. He’s a young guy and his personality and maturity level are still forming,” Brewer said.

Woods who, in addition to being his coach, is also the human resources manager at Baker’s work, said he takes his job very seriously; that wasn’t always the case though.

“He was in our children’s program when he was younger… he was kind of rambunctious as a kid, but he’s grown up so fast and now he’s a very dedicated person,” Woods said.

Judy said having a job has really brought the best out of Baker as well.

“At first he was really ‘It’s my way or forget it’ at work, but I think he’s learned to have more respect for his co-workers and bosses,” she said. “He respects them now because he knows what they say is right.”

From talking to Brewer, that respect goes both ways.

“I just hope that everybody knows what an effervescent personality he has. He always has a smile from ear to ear every time you see him,” Brewer said. “Not that he doesn’t take what he does seriously, but he’s just a happy guy.

“Everybody here on the crew enjoys having him around and we can count on him to keep that attitude up. That’s probably why someone nominated him (for the Special Olympics Missourian of the Month).

“You can’t help but smile with him around.”