Hard at work beating challenges

When Sam Mayer was born, doctors said he would never walk, but he has achieved far more than that and is now helping others with his Sam’s Smiles project

ASSEMBLING HYGIENE PACKS for homeless people, 17-year-old Sam Mayer recently worked on his community service project at his father’s company, J&H Heating in Port Washington. Each of the packs bears a sticker with a smile and Sam’s name on it. Photos by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

When you meet Sam Mayer, it’s hard to ignore his wide smile.

And it’s that grin that has come to define his community service project, Sam’s Smiles. 

Sam collects items for the homeless — everything from snacks to deodorant, soap to shampoo, combs to toothbrushes and toothpaste — then organizes them into hygiene packs at his father Jeff’s company, J&H Heating in Port Washington.

He delivers them to Mr. Bob’s Under the Bridge program in Cedarburg, which distributes more than 125 packs to homeless people in Milwaukee every week.

Sam’s Smiles is a dual-purpose charity, not only allowing the 17-year-old Town of Grafton youth the chance to give back to the community but also increase his skill set, his mother Sue said. 

That’s important for Sam, who was born with Down syndrome, has a heart defect and respiratory and immune issues and suffered a serious brain injury when he was less than a month old.

“We were told he would never walk, never talk,” his mother said. “We were told he would probably have the cognitive ability of an infant.”

That was news his family didn’t accept. They found an individualized neurodevelopment program that helped Sam surpass those predictions by the time he was 4.

“Within three weeks in the program, he was belly crawling,” his mother said. “That was my green-light moment.”  

Sam has also faced a number of physical challenges in his short life, hip problems that forced him to be confined to a wheelchair for a time being among the most recent. He had a full hip replacement when he was 15, and now walks without issues.

“Sam is a warrior, a fighter and through it all he has smiled,” his mother said.

Sam has met his family’s expectations, and currently holds several jobs. He works for J&H Heating part-time, compiling hardware kits for crews to use when installing rooftop units and doing maintenance chores, and he also does contract work for BDS Fastener in Port.

“I’m always asking, ‘What else do you have that he can do?’” his mother said. “It keeps his brain going and keeps it interesting for him.”

From that effort came Sam’s Smiles. 

“It’s a project that has taken on a nice flair,” his mother said.

Sam uses some of the money he earns working at his part-time jobs, as well as donations from the community, to buy supplies for the hygiene kits.

His mother recently set up a GoFundMe page to supplement those funds, setting the initial goal at $1,000.

“I think it was 12 days and we hit our goal,” she said, so they’ve upped the goal to $2,000.

While some of his supplies are purchased in bulk through MD Supplies, Sam also goes to the Dollar Store to buy some items, selecting them himself and counting out the money at the checkout counter. 

“I want him to learn,” his mother said.

She posts videos of Sam putting together the kits and making deliveries on the Sam’s Smiles Facebook page, and she and her son send thank yous to donors.

“It keeps his mind active and keeps him doing something important, something that means something,” his mother said.

“I’ve always volunteered. I always wanted my children to volunteer. There has to be something you do that’s for others.

“To see him do all these things as independently as he does is fantastic.”

Sam is often supervised by his mother and a representative from Balance Inc. is frequently present with Sam on the job. He takes hug breaks and visits with other workers at J&H.

“He’s been a joy. It’s nice to see him coming to work,” his mother said. “He’s a hard worker.

“I enjoy my time with him. People say it’s a lot. I say it’s easy. I just have to figure how what makes things work for Sam.”

And there are many benefits, she added.

“I have someone who hugs me nine times a day, who tells me he loves me 20 times a day,” his mother said. “Those are our perks.

“It’s good to see him flourish. I’m thrilled with how far he’s come and what he’s able to do.”

Anyone wishing to donate personal sized items for the hygiene kits may drop them off at J&H Heating, 1220 Mineral Springs Dr., in Port Washington’s industrial park. Visit the Sam’s Smiles Facebook page for more information.



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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


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