Friday, June 5, 2015

June 10 Arc Family Forum to Address Workshop Closure

In response to the state's decision to close sheltered workshops for New Yorkers with intellectual and other developmental disabilities beginning in 2020, The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming will hold its third annual Family Forum at 6:30pm Wednesday, June 10 at Hilltop Industries, 3 East State Street in Mount Morris.  The event is open to the public.

"Will the Hilltop workshop close?  Where will my loved one work?  What new services are being offered?  How can I help?  These are the questions on our community's mind that will be our focus on June 10," says Kellie Kennedy, Director of Day Services for The Arc.  "Our advocacy along with the advocacy of groups across the state is starting to make progress with getting state officials to re-think their strategy, but we need to keep up the pressure."

Through its Hilltop Industries program, The Arc provides about 220 workshop-based jobs for individuals with disabilities.  About 100 additional people work elsewhere in the community, at independent work sites coordinated through Hilltop.  Many of those receiving services maintain that workshop closure would take away a secure, gainful work option that is often preferred by Hilltop participants.

"My disability is unique to me; I struggle each and every day of my life," says Hilltop worker Keith Conklin.  "Work gives me a sense of accomplishment.  I need to choose for myself where I want to work, I need to choose for myself what I want to do, and I need to choose for myself who I want to work with.  I know what is best for me."

Reservations are not required for the Family Forum.  Attendees are encouraged to arrive early, based on standing-room-only attendance at previous Forums.  Doors will open at 6:10pm.  Contact Kellie Kennedy at 585-658-3311 ext. 203 or with questions or suggestions.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

All Dressed Up at Finders Keepers

Finders Keepers workers Justine Deluca, Morgan Snyder, Keith Conklin, and Barney Pedraza
Finders Keepers workers Justine Deluca, Morgan Snyder,
Keith Conklin, and Barney Pedraza
Last minute prom dress shoppers on a budget can breathe a sigh of relief, thanks to an unexpected visit to a local thrift store by a real-life Fairy Godmother.

René Spallina, of Fairy Godmothers of Greater Rochester, recently gifted Finders Keepers of Mount Morris more than 800 prom, semiformal, cocktail, dinner, and wedding dresses.  The not-for-profit shop, which employs and benefits individuals with disabilities through The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming, is selling them at a deep discount of $10-$65 per dress.

"My family lives in Pittsford, but our business is in Mount Morris," explains René, whose family's Spallina Materials business produces concrete, asphalt, stone, and sand.  "I drive by the Finders Keepers store every day.  One day I had a bunch of stuff from my house that I dropped off for donation.  I started talking to the person working there, and she mentioned that it was part of The Arc, and that the money made there goes to the programs.  I explained what I do, and asked if they might be interested in some dresses."

Mara Axelrod (left) and René Spallina (right)
With fellow Fairy Godmother Mara Axelrod, René amasses well over 3,000 special occasion dresses at any given time, for distribution to young women in financial need.   The dresses — many of which are brand new — come from sources such as bridal shops, drop off locations, and independent dress drives.  Each year, the Godmothers hold a huge Prom Fair at the Riverside Convention Center in Rochester.  Personal shoppers help to make dreams come true for as many as 400 prom-goers, with free dresses, alterations, and accessories.

By working with Finders Keepers, René is able to spread her organization's fairy magic a bit further.

Located on the corner of State and Main Streets in Mount Morris, Finders Keepers opened in 2009 as the inaugural retail venture for The Arc's Hilltop Industries vocational rehabilitation program.  The store provides gainful employment and work skills training for 6-8 individuals with intellectual and other developmental disabilities, who work in customer service and behind-the-scenes capacities.  Proceeds benefit Hilltop's work programs in the community and its integrated work centers.

Handling such a large donation has presented a series of learning opportunities and adventures for Finders Keepers workers, beginning with the process of picking up the dresses.

"It took more than one trip," says Finders Keepers Store Manager Bud Howe.  "For the first pick-up, we drove to Rochester in what seemed like a snow storm.  We backed up to a loading dock, and ended up throwing about 45 bags of eight dresses each a bag into the vehicle.  We were like Santa and his elves hauling half a bus full of black bags through the snow."

Back at the store, the team unloaded, hung, steamed, sorted, and priced the dresses in preparation for display on the showroom floor.  They also honed their marketing skills, producing flyers for local schools, and elaborate store window dressing to promote the ongoing dress sale.

"The first day that we had them on display, two girls from Mount Morris School came in and started trying them on them on," Bud says.  "The word spread quickly and — boom — we had our first customer, a Mount Morris family who bought four dresses for a wedding." 

In two weeks’ time, Finders Keepers had sold nearly 30 dresses, in significant progress toward a "happily ever after” ending.  Finders Keepers' Fairy Godmother couldn't be more pleased.

"I'm thrilled for two main reasons," René says. "First, girls right here who can't travel into the city are getting dresses, when they otherwise might not be able to afford a prom dress or a dress for a special event.  Also, the fact that the money is staying in this area, and being put into Arc programs, is a very important thing."

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Arc Foundation to Award Two $2,000 Scholarships

Download the application
For the 22nd year, The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming Foundation will grant two scholarships to graduating High School Seniors from the Livingston-Wyoming County area. Each scholarship is valued at up to $2,000, payable in annual installments of $500.

Scholarships are awarded to students specifically pursuing careers serving persons with intellectual and other developmental disabilities. Examples include teacher of special education, occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech pathology, art therapy, music therapy, and training in the direct care field.
Completed and signed applications should be submitted to Arc of Livingston-Wyoming Public Relations Director Jeff Thomas, 18 Main Street, Mount Morris, NY 14510 by Friday, February 27th. Scholarship winners will be notified by Monday, March 16th, in conjunction with National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month.

The Arc Foundation is the fundraising arm of The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming, the two-county region's largest private, not-for-profit agency providing programs and services to individuals with intellectual and other developmental disabilities. The Foundation raises money through special events and other ventures, and then distributes funds to support services that maintain and enhance the quality of life for individuals with disabilities and their families.

Download the 2015 Arc Foundation Scholarship Application.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Families Cannot Be Caregivers Forever

An Essay by Marcy VanZandt

It has been 7 years since my daughter Casey, then 25 years old, left our family home in Castile, NY for a place of her own 25 miles away in Dansville. In some ways, it was a typical transition for a woman in her mid 20s. But it was also somewhat extraordinary, a point that I hope is not lost on Gov. Cuomo as he puts the final touches on his 2015 budget proposal for the State of New York.

You see, like one in roughly 50 Americans, Casey was born with a developmental disability, which in Casey's case affects her cognitive and language skills. My husband, Ed, and I had already watched two sons go off to college, so the tears and proud feelings associated with children “leaving the nest” were familiar. But Casey had overcome so many extra hurdles on this journey to residential independence.

I remember Casey's first night in her new house, a group home operated by The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming, as if it were just yesterday.  She had spent nights away from home before, but this time was different.  As parents, it was very lonely, with lots of tears. Did she think we abandoned her? What was going through her head?

Today, that nervousness has been eclipsed by an overwhelming feeling of pride. For the first time in her life, Casey is able to experience all of the thrills, nervousness, and responsibility that accompany independent living.

I also feel an incredible sense of relief knowing that Casey is well cared for by dedicated direct support professionals at the house, and at The Arc's day programs where she works and practices life skills.  It is important never to forget that Ed and I are in our retirement years, and the reality of life is that someday we won't be here for Casey.

Put simply, families cannot be caregivers forever.

Which brings me to Gov. Cuomo, and a call to action for readers of this letter.

I urge you to contact Gov. Cuomo, as well as our State Senators and Assemblymembers.  The governor's budget proposal is expected later this month, and recent actions by his office have shown a disturbing disregard toward people with disabilities who are living at home with aging family members.

On November 21, the governor vetoed four very important bills for people with developmental disabilities. In particular, these bills would have begun to address the growing waiting list of people living at home in critical need of service, many of whom have parents that are too disabled by age to care for them any longer.

The response among families has been dramatic and poignant.  During highly emotional testimony at hearings held across the State, these families told of how the lack of any alternatives is pushing many to the brink. One family member said her only solace lay in thoughts of suicide.

We cannot let the governor's vetoes represent a beginning for policy as it pertains to aging families of children with disabilities throughout New York State.

Instead, especially with a record budget surplus of over $6.8 billion, the State must make a real and concerted effort to finally do something to address this problem.  Families, advocates, and people with
developmental disabilities around the State need to implore the governor and our State legislators to include funds in the upcoming State budget to provide critical services.

Locally, The Arc has set up a section of its Web site with contact information for Gov. Cuomo and other representatives. Visit to join the effort. There are also details on the site about our next in-person Family Advocacy Group meeting, January 26 in Mount Morris.

Let's join together and let Albany know that we care about our daughters, sons, friends, and neighbors with disabilities, not just today, but as we grow older together.  There's something extraordinary that happens in houses like the one where Casey lives.  Please join Casey and me as we tell the State about it. Together, our voices won't be denied!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Warsaw's Man In Red Embodies Holiday Spirit

In Warsaw, Santa Claus isn't the only jolly man in red who's spreading joy and making a difference this holiday season!

Brian Heisler has made a name for himself as a holiday fixture at Tops Friendly Market, where he volunteers his time as a Salvation Army bell ringer.

For the past five winters, Brian has donned the familiar red apron up to three days a week.  Accompanied by Arc of Livingston-Wyoming Habilitation Specialist Richy Campbell, Brian mans the red collection kettle as a way to give back to his local community, where the money is used to help people in need.

Brian, who lives in an Arc-operated house in Warsaw, takes pride that all of the money he helps to raise will be used locally in Wyoming County.

"It feels good when people fill up the kettle," Brian says.  "I've had moms donate together with their tiny kids.  Sometimes they think I'm Santa Claus, which brings a smile to their faces."

Because the contents of the kettle are kept under lock and key, it's hard to know exactly how much money this surrogate Santa collects during any given shift—but "that kettle is pretty heavy by the time we're through," he says.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

You're Invited to Breakfast with Santa, December 13th at KidStart!

Breakfast with Santa

Saturday, December 13, 2014 ~ 8:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.
KidStart (5871 Groveland Station Road, Mount Morris, NY)
A FREE Community Event ~ Driving Directions Here ~ Register Here

Good old Saint Nick will pull double duty on Saturday, December 13th at The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming's "Breakfast With Santa," to be held at KidStart, 5871 Groveland Station Road in Mt. Morris.

The festive family event includes two sessions: children 12 and younger can dine with Santa at 8:30 am, while older kids and adults with disabilities can visit with Kris Kringle at 10:30 am.

Both sessions will include food and drink, crafts, face-painting, caroling, and individual visits with Santa Claus.  Don't forget to bring a camera!

Breakfast with Santa is free and open to the public.  Children must be accompanied by a parent or other adult guardian.  Families are encouraged to donate a non-perishable food item to benefit local families in need through KidStart's backpack program.

Reserve your spot online or by contacting Arc of Livingston-Wyoming Public Relations Coordinator Tina Sick at (585) 658-2828 or by Monday, December 8th.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Monkey Business

Barney Pedraza
What's more fun than a barrel of monkeys?

How about 10,000 barrels and 100,000 monkeys!

That's the number of silly simians that are currently in residence at Livingston County Chamber of Commerce member Hilltop Industries’ work center in Mount Morris, thanks to a new contract with Hasbro Inc., one of the largest toymakers in the world.  And Hilltop is breaking out the bananas, because it's only the beginning.

Workers at Hilltop, which provides gainful employment to almost 300 individuals with disabilities, are expected to assemble about 40,000 units of Hasbro's classic "Barrel of Monkeys" game per month over the next year. 

Manufactured since 1965, the game consists of 10 toy monkeys packaged in a plastic barrel.  Each monkey's arms form an s-shaped hook.  Starting with one monkey, the player hooks the monkeys' arms together one at a time, to form a chain.  His turn is over when a monkey is dropped.

Under the new deal, Hilltop workers will assemble the popular toys, including wrangling the monkeys, housing them in their blue, purple, or orange barrel, labeling, and shrink wrapping the final product for display at toy and department stores across the country.

"Hasbro is the latest world class company to recognize the quality of work by our people," says Hilltop Director Kellie Kennedy.  "Our output stands up against any disabled or non-disabled workforce."

Hilltop Industries is the vocational rehabilitation division of The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming, a not-for-profit agency that is the county's largest primary service provider for people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities.  Hilltop provides community-based jobs for individuals with disabilities, in addition to employment at its integrated work centers, which offer assembly and packaging services on a contract basis.

"The Barrel of Monkeys job requires a lot of dexterity,” says Hilltop Sales and Marketing Manager Rebecca Crocker.  “A supported worker will need to be able to 'assemble' and carefully line up the shrink band to the location on the barrel. It also requires color layout skills, as the barrels will need to be put in the box in a particular pattern.”

The job is expected to provide work for 5-8 people on an ongoing basis, with hope of a long-term relationship between Hilltop and the toy giant.

"We are now a vendor in the Hasbro system," Crocker says.  "This means when the buyers have an RFQ (Request for Quote) and it fits our capabilities, they will send us the opportunity to quote on it. We have already quoted on two more projects."

And that, as they say, is no monkeying around.