Not Your Average Journey of Hope – Pi Alpha Spotlight: Earl Layumas

Name: Earl Layumas 

Chapter: Epsilon Theta (Seton Hall) 

Hometown: Hopewell Junction, NY 

Event: Journey of Hope South 1992 

Find your passion. Our recent conversation with Pi Alpha, Earl Layumas uncovered an incredibly unique Pi Alpha experience. Check out how an abbreviated Journey of Hope led to a career serving individuals with disabilities.

Hi Earl! What are you up to these days? I currently work with Care Design NY, the largest care coordination organization working with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in New York. My job is Care Manager Director and I have been in this position for just over two years. Previously, I was the Executive Director for The Arc Community League which also serves and work with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). I worked with The Arc for over 20 years. I am married to Erin (second marriage) and together we have five children – four sons and a daughter. All four sons are active duty service members. We have a Marine and three in the Army. The youngest just completed Army boot camp and has moved on to his advanced training for his MOS in the military. My daughter is a budding entrepreneur and photographer.     

We know you have ton going on. What is new with you during this pandemic? I am planning to delve back into some long distance running events – half marathon, perhaps a marathon or two and I have always wanted to completed an Ironman triathlon event so I think that would be a long range goal for me, I would love to actually cycle across the US at some point, perhaps get involved in a board of directors or some civic group, or maybe even something Pi Kapp related. 

Any fun or interesting fact?  First, I am a career martial artist. I am currently a 4th degree black belt in Aikido, 1st degree black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai trainer/coach, and boxing trainer/coach. I always find it interesting when two worlds collide or there is crossover. For instance, one of the students in one of my Aikido classes who started training with me since he was in junior high school. He ended up receiving his black belt in Aikido and when he went away to college, he ended up becoming one of our Pi Kapp brothers. I share brotherhood with this young man in more than one way! 

Also, I want to think that I had an integral part in the formation of Eta Xi chapter (SUNY Albany) where I transferred to after Seton Hall and eventually graduated from.  Unfortunately, I believe that chapter is not active any longer, but I was happy to share my brotherhood experiences with the group that I had formed there.  

On Journey of Hope in 1992, you had a very different experience. Can you describe what things looked like for you that summer? Well, I did have a very different experience. Within the first week of Journey of Hope, I was hit by a car. I was airlifted by heloto UC – Davis Medical Center and spent about a week there. I ended up getting an emergency splenectomy as I had ruptured my spleen and a bunch of road rash as you can imagine. The next few weeks I spent recovering and I believe I got updates from the guys and a couple of phone calls. I thought I was done with JOH, but luckily, I was able to join back up with the guys for the last week or so as a crew member. It was awesome! I joined the team when we did an event at the old Atlanta – Fulton County Stadium, rode around the outfield with the team, I met Lou Pinella who is a former NY Yankee ( I am avid NY Yankees fan), Bobby Cox (famed manager of the Atlanta Braves), John Smoltz (former Braves pitcher) and I want to say that Tom Glavine (Baseball Hall of Famer and former Braves pitcher) was there also, but my memory is foggy on that one. I got to exchange the lineup cards with Lou Pinella and Bobby Cox and BS with them before the game. I was awestruck and we watched a game! I am a huge baseball fan so that was an experience that sticks with me even to this day! Coming into Washington DC and being at the Capitol was also amazing and all the celebrations at the end of that event. I do not know about everyone else on the team, but I was floating. I think that I floated until I got back home. So much happened in that week or so. Like I said, I would not change it for the world.  

What would you say has been your most meaningful experience with The Ability Experience? Past or present. Even though I had a very “unique” experience in 1992, it still ranks as one of the best experiences in my life. I have memories from that summer that I still remember and still think about from time to time. I think that anyone that participated in this event shares an extra special bond with the gentlemen/brothers that you were with for that summer. Being a Pi Kapp is a special thing but being a Pi Alpha is even something more.  I would not change that for anything. 

Tell us about some of the people you’ve met while on your trek across the country that has markedly changed you. I had a relationship with a woman that I had met on one of our friendship visits out near Sacramento for many years. She used to write to me, a few letters over the course of the year and she would always send some cookies or treats in the mail around the holiday season – Claire. One of the last times that I heard from her, we were moving towards email and more use of the internet and her and I were able to chat over email and instant messaging. I looked forward to hearing from her, talking to her on the phone, letters, emails and chatting in instant messaging and her getting to know my family.   

She had to move into an assisted living facility as her physical issues were becoming more and more and she passed away a few years ago now. She got to know my first wife and 2 of my sons through all those years of correspondence. Claire like so many people that I have met who have a developmental disability all crave the same things that all of us want. We all want to live, laugh and love. In this particular case, she loved meeting us, JOH brothers, and through all the years of corresponding with her and her mother, I thought that she really needed me, but I needed her just as much.  

In the wake of COVID-19 you chose to run a Relay for National Down Syndrome Awareness day. How did that participation come to be? There is a family that I work with that my wife and I had become very close with.  Mom was in our wedding party for our five year vow renewal celebration. That’s how close we are with this family. Anyhow, Mom’s name is Jaime. She is an awesome person, and she has a teenage daughter named Jaylin. Jaylin is someone with Down Syndrome and Autism.   

Last year, Jaime completed Run for 3.21, a relay from DC to NYC in support of National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS).  A team of 20 people mostly runner types run relay style. Teams of 2 runners run a leg and exchange to the next team raising money and awareness for Down Syndrome.  She joked that I should do it with her after she completed it last year. I did not think too much of it, but we decided to run a half marathon together in Las Vegas, the Rock and Roll Half Marathon in November. I fundraised and with Jaime’s help and support from my family and her family and my network, I completed my fundraising goal and was set to go for March 19 – 21 of this year and as everyone knows, COVID-19 hit in early March! At first, we were thinking we would be able to go, but as we marched closer to the 19th a determination was made by NDSS that they would postpone the event for some time in the fall.   

Jump to the fall, at first, NDSS was thinking of doing an all virtual event in September, but finally a decision was made to do it October 2 – 4.  All of the original team members that had signed up to do it in March participated, and we even added a couple more!  Most of our team participated virtually running on treadmills or in their local neighborhoods. I ran with a woman, Amy, from Michigan during my legs of the event. I would call her and text her throughout the 3-day event, check on her and she would check on me.  Most of the time, I ran with someone in person additionally especially at night. I had a few legs at midnight and 1 AM in the morning.  

Overall, a great experience and I would consider participating again. I think that Jaime and I want to do it together and we would want to run for her daughter, Jaylin, again. She is very special to me and my family.  

What has changed about yourself since you became a Pi Alpha?  Everything! That summer was a game changer for me. When you are young, you are invincible, you can do anything, you’re Superman or Superwoman. Well, I am not invincible, but I did not let what happened to me stop me from doing what I want to do or achieve what I want to achieve in any realm. I was already a black belt in Aikido before Journey of Hope, but I have since added quite a bit to my martial arts resume. I ran 3 marathons including NYC and Boston after JOH and stayed active my whole life. Because of my involvement with PKP and The Ability Experience, I choose to work in the field of intellectual and developmental disabilities.  Really, there are days when it is work, but mostly it is not. I love what I do for the people that I work for and I am not talking about the current company that I work for (which I do love, by the way), but the people, my families and their loved ones who struggle every day with behavioral concerns/issues, problems with school districts, lack of services, no service providers, etc., etc. 

Can you think back to a specific instance or event when you knew serving individuals with disabilities was a career you wanted to pursue? Hard to say, but I think that after JOH, I stayed at Albany to pursue additional education and weighed through some other possible interests such as working as a counselor, something in criminal justice, or business administration. I came home and started working at my friend’s martial arts school. About a year after that, I started working as a Level Supervisor at Orange County AHRC and opened my own martial arts school and these have been the two constants in my life – working in the I/DD field and martial arts. Once I started working in the field at Orange County AHRC, that was it. One opportunity led into another and I have worked in the field of I/DD ever since. I cannot say that it was a single event that led me to the I/DD field, but perhaps a culmination of things. My parents both work in health care so that shaped me a bit.  My father is a physician and my mother is a retired RN. Helping and caring for people is in our DNA so to speak.   

A global threat like COVID-19 affects more than just the infected. A pandemic touches every person on the planet. What have you learned during this whole experience that you’d like to share with the rest of the Ability Experience family? Any words of encouragement for our students – or alumni – or our parents?  Be good to yourself, take time for yourself.  I have the ability to work from home, but it has its ups and downs as many people are aware of.  Check your own personal mental health through this difficult period.  Connect with the ones that you love.  

What are three things you like most about our servant leadership programs and why you like them?  The Ability Experience is unique because unlike most fraternal philanthropies, PKP created one and did not just merely pick one.  I think that the majority of young people are not always exposed to different types of people and our programs give young men opportunities to grow through these experiences.  This is another reason I like our programs.  Not only grow in many ways but give our young men opportunities to forge meaningful relationships with a person with a disability.  Some of my most meaningful and great friendships are with a person with I/DD.  Our young men might not have that opportunity were it not for PKP and The Ability Experience.  

How would you recommend new participants make the most of their team event experience? Do it!  Train well and enjoy the events and activities, friendship visits, and other media events that help to spread The Ability Experience message.