John Estrem

Hammer CEO John Estrem has been elected president of the ARRM board of directors. He was elected to a two-year term, which he will serve while still acting as CEO for Hammer.

WAYZATA — By taking on a new leadership position, Hammer’s CEO hopes to help people with disabilities throughout the state lead the kind of life that they want.

The Wayzata-based nonprofit Hammer Residences Inc., has helped children and adults with developmental disabilities live full and active lives for more than 90 years.

For the next two years, Hammer CEO John Estrem will expand his efforts in that arena as he serves as president of the board of directors for ARRM. ARRM is an association representing more than 200 direct-care providers, businesses and advocates in Minnesota that are dedicated to leading the advancement of community-based services that support people with disabilities.

“We are at a critical juncture in Minnesota to ensure that support services for people with disabilities continue to be able to empower people to live their best lives, and I look forward to seeing that ARRM remains a leader in this advocacy,” Estrem noted after the ARRM board elected him president.

Massive changes have affected the field in the last five to 10 years, impacting virtually every aspect of it, Estrem said. In his position as president at ARRM, he wants to help the organization make an impact on the future of the industry rather than just reacting.

One area that has had a large impact on Hammer and other organizations and businesses like it are regulations.

“There’s been a big change in the regulations that guide our work,” Estrem said.

Hammer is supportive of many of the regulations, he said, because they make the industry more person-centered, which is a guiding principle of Hammer. While Estrem likes a lot of the regulations, they each come with a cost and has involved changing processes and adding paperwork and documentation.

There’s also a lot of overlap. Currently, Estrem said, regulations are coming from the federal, state and county level, and some cities are starting to get into it as well.

“We want sensible regulations,” he said.

Fighting for funding will be another top priority for Estrem. Government funding has had a major impact on ARRM and its members. In best case scenarios, public funding to help those with disabilities has frozen, while in some cases it has decreased, Estrem said. Costs to the organizations and businesses that assist people with disabilities, however, continue to increase.

At Hammer, fundraising efforts have increased to make up for the decline in government funding. Additional fundraising likely won’t be enough to maintain services, however, if Medicaid cuts that are being discussed at the federal level are approved.

Cuts to the federal health program that provides coverage to about 69 million Americans, including low-income adults, children, pregnant women, elderly adults and people with disabilities, would have an enormous impact, Estrem said.

“It’s almost hard to contemplate,” he said.

Attracting and keeping direct support professional employees, the people who work one-on-one with those with disabilities, is another of Estrem’s goals. The pay is low for those positions, with many earning about $12 per hour, leading to worker shortages and high turnover in the field.

Strengthening the staff and being able to retain DSPs long term would be beneficial to people with disabilities.

“All of this is about the people we support,” Estrem said.

While trade organizations in some industries may be made up of members who compete with one another for business, ARRM is different, Estrem said. The one area where there is competition among ARRM members is innovation, he said.

Estrem enjoys being a part of ARRM because of that camaraderie around providing people with disabilities a higher quality of life that’s filled with more opportunities.

“We can make an impact on the daily lives of individuals,” he said.


Amanda Schwarze is a Lakeshore reporter who is passionate about local government and nonprofit projects. She is thoughtful and independent. Amanda loves traveling, cooking and spending time with her boyfriend and their two cats (Buddy Guy and Spotacus).