Dear La Vida Community,
I remember exactly where I was when I thought, “I want to give back to La Vida the way it gave to me”. It was during my participant trip in May 2013. I was walking in the rain to fill up our water bags from the stream for pumping our drinking water. The freezing rain and windy days of paddling over the past few days, though challenging, had bonded my group as a team. While walking out to get the water, I was with another participant, Matt, who I had met only days before.
I asked him, “How can I share my whole life story with people who don’t understand me or my past?” He told me “Well, the people who are with you right now understand this crazy, hard, beautiful experience more than anyone else ever will. I think you can trust them.” In that moment I felt the connection that comes through shared challenging moments in a healthy, God-honoring community. That expedition truly taught me to hold fast to God and others as I navigate the struggles of life. After that moment with Matt, I felt compelled to share this ministry with as many people as I could.
Joel was Matt Galiano-Williams’ best man in his wedding in 2019. Matt was then Joel’s best man at his wedding in 2022.
Since then, I led La Vida expeditions in the Adirondacks for multiple summers, including an expedition to China. I had the privilege of seeing students grow through our other programs as well like Discovery, Adventure Pursuits, and the Rock Gym (Still have yet to experience Adventure Camp!). Eventually I applied to and accepted the Assistant Director of Outdoor Education role, spending my summers training staff and running expeditions in the Adirondacks. My love for the outdoors that started with La Vida, expanded into other outdoor pursuits. In 2017, I went on an expedition to Nepal to learn the intricacies of high-altitude mountaineering. In 2020, I became so focused on rock climbing that I moved out to Colorado for 10 months to fully invest in the sport. La Vida not only gave me a job, it also gave me a passion for the outdoors that affects every part of my life to this day.
Leading the ADK staff training trip in 2018
Run day for the La Vida College Expedition groups
Flipping burgers at Celebration
Left: Leading the ADK staff training trip in 2018 | Center: Run day for the La Vida College Expedition groups | Right: Flipping burgers at Celebration
Joel led the second La Vida trip in Beijing, China for students from Concordia International School Shanghai.
Hiking in Nepal
Rappelling a La Vida Expedition student at Owl’s Head
Rock climbing in Colorado
Left: Hiking in Nepal | Center: Rappelling a La Vida Expedition student at Owl’s Head | Right: Rock climbing in Colorado
But anyone who has experienced La Vida knows that the relationships are what set this ministry apart from other outdoor programs. I’m grateful every day to work with an office staff who are committed to serving students through experiential education. I am especially honored to work with the different Adirondack summer staff, who were patient as I figured out the Assistant Director role and gave me the best they had to offer. I truly felt like I was walking alongside a team that wanted to show every participant the power and wonder of God in creation and community. One of the highest praises I can give is that I have trusted another person to care for the education and development of the participants on Adirondack expeditions. My staff during the summers proved trustworthy and brought so much passion and care into serving the participants.
Even with all the joys that La Vida has brought, it’s now time for me to step away. I have the joy of being married to Grace with the recent addition of our five-month-old daughter, Selah. My professional commitments to La Vida and the military take significant amount of time and I want to give the best of my time and attention to my family. The past 10 years have been an amazing chance to live out my commitment to give back to La Vida. I can truly say I’ve done my best to care for the students and staff who’ve come through the program. I’m filled with gratitude to have had the honor to serve at La Vida.
Grace, Joel and Selah at the top of Mount Major in NH.
Two people immediately come to mind that had an enormous impact on my time here and I need to thank them specifically:
Thanks to Nate Hausman, who I am convinced will be the best boss I will ever have. Thank you for setting the example of working hard while caring for your staff. Thank you for slowing me down when I wanted to rush in implementing new policies and practices. Thanks for giving clear guidance and thoughtful reflection in everything from interpersonal conflicts to a dump truck being stuck at the ropes course. Your loyalty to this program has taught me what true dedication looks like. Besides our working relationship, your love of family has shown me the joys that come from putting family first. Now I get a chance to invest in my own family. I’m honored to bring your lasting influence on me into the rest of my professional and personal life.
And thank you to Rich Obenschain, who sought me out and believed in me from the start. I miss doing battle with the rope course woodpecker, cutting down trees, and our competitive racquetball games. I never was able to beat you 2 out of 3 games, so you’ll remain the eternal victor. Thank you for teaching me that I can live into my calling with passion and joy. I wish you had been able to meet my wife and daughter. I wish you had a chance to see how the La Vida team has stewarded the program in your absence. You are missed.
Joel and Nate after completing the Lake Placid Half Marathon in 2022
Lastly, a special thanks to you, the La Vida community. You all have been with me through this crazy, hard, beautiful experience in a way others will likely never understand. Just like Matt said about my La Vida expedition group 10 years ago, “I think you can trust them”. So, I’m making a commitment move and trusting you all to continue caring for this amazing ministry after I’ve stepped away. Thanks for your faithfulness and I can’t wait to see where God takes La Vida in the future.
Joel and Grace with their daughter Selah at base camp, summer 2023.
If you’d like to help send Joel off with well wishes, you can leave encouraging thoughts, prayers, affirmations, and photos on his Kudoboard. We will print this for him so he can reflect on your kind words for years to come.