Life’s journey isn’t always linear; sometimes, our passions and directions shift or grow fuzzy, before snapping back into clarity. This dynamic is clearly present in the life of Joey Pierlioni, a social worker and student in Antioch Online’s Master of Human Services Administration program. He overcame the difficult circumstances of his childhood to end up a semi-professional coronet player in Miami before finding his way back to his true passion: helping people through social services.
Finding a Way to Help Others and Provide for Family
Pierlioni grew up in northern Maine, near the Canadian border. His family struggled with homelessness and poverty throughout his childhood. His first encounter with social services—the field that would become his career—happened when he was twelve years old. That was when Joey’s sister made a new friend at school.
His sister’s friend turned out to be the daughter of Captain and Mrs. Dickson, both of whom were members of the Salvation Army, a Christian church and international charitable organization. Eventually, Pierlioni’s sister brought her siblings to meet the Dickson parents, and afterwards the Dicksons offered all five siblings the opportunity to attend a Salvation Army summer camp. “As kids, we jumped at the chance,” says Pierlioni, “and my mom jumped at the chance to have no kids for a week.”
The summer camp was fun, and when he returned Joey began volunteering for the Salvation Army. It was volunteer work, but they paid a modest meal allowance. That small check allowed him to buy Christmas presents for his parents and siblings. “Every couple of weeks, I’d get twenty-two bucks and cash the check for gifts for my family,” explains Pierlioni.
But his appreciation for the work went beyond the stipend. He enjoyed doing good works through the organization, and his connection to his family and commitment to service came to serve as a grounding rod in his life. He also picked up a skill there that would change his life: he started playing in a church band. His instrument was the coronet.
Adventures in Florida Lead Back to School
In his twenties, Pierlioni’s life path led him away from nonprofit work—and towards a bar in Miami’s South Beach called the Blue Martini. He bartended there and played coronet in a band. He enjoyed the nightlife and the weather, which was a contrast to the northern climes of his childhood. At the same time, it wasn’t particularly fulfilling. As he says, “This life was more exciting, but it was also addicting.” He started looking for other opportunities.
In 2010, Pierlioni moved to Aberdeen, South Dakota, to care for his ailing father. Around the same time, he enrolled in Full Sail University. In 2014 he graduated with a Bachelor’s in Digital Cinematography. He found work and creative challenges as a filmmaker and photographer, although it has often been hard to find work breaking into the field. “I started looking around,” explains Pierlioni, “but no job wanted to give me a chance with 20 years of bartending as my resume”
A few years later, Pierlioni’s father died, and this gave him an opportunity to reflect on what his future would look like. Joey’s path eventually took him back to his roots in social work.
Developing a Lifelong Passion for Helping Others
In 2018, Pierlioni started a new job as a residential counselor at The New Beginnings Center in Aberdeen, South Dakota. Sponsored by Lutheran Social Services, the center aids youth who need emergency shelter, assessments, respite care, transitional care, short-term care, and day treatment.
Although Pierlioni began as a residential counselor, within three months he was promoted to residential group leader. He is enthusiastic about the New Beginnings Center and grateful that they hired him.
He is so enthusiastic about this line of work that he decided to pursue a Master’s degree in Human Services Administration—and he decided to enroll in the MHSA program at Antioch Online. He loves the coursework and the problems that his instructors are preparing him to face. He has particularly enjoyed working with Dr. Mary Ann Short, the program’s director, who not only recruited Pierlioni to the program but has remained a positive influence in his academic life.
“The lively discussions are invaluable,” he says. And he’s savoring every minute of it. As he explains, “Having intellectual debates and conversations is something that I am going to greatly miss upon leaving grad school.”
In some ways, Joey’s life has finally come full circle. With his degree, he will be able to “help people in his community,” he says, just as he was once helped by Captain and Mrs. Dickson.