Thursday, February 21, 2013

Local Skier Captures Bronze at Special Olympics World Games

Warsaw native Barney Pedraza took a rare day off from his job at Mount Morris' Finders Keepers thrift shop this February, to recuperate from a whirlwind trip to PyeongChang, South Korea where he captured a Bronze Medal in skiing at the Special Olympics World Winter Games.

"I got home on Saturday (February 9th), and I returned to work on Tuesday," says Barney, age 36, who assists with deliveries, pickups, and general upkeep at the store, which is operated by Hilltop Industries, The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming's business services program. "I had to stay home to catch up on my sleep."

Back to work, Barney proudly wears his medal draped around his neck as he performs his duties at the store, which provides meaningful job opportunities to individuals with developmental disabilities.  He earned it in the Alpine Advanced Slalom competition, a form of downhill skiing that involves a vertical drop measuring 60-200 meters over terrain classified as "intermediate."

After finishing in 4th and then 5th place during heats held earlier in the competition, Barney scored his Bronze Medal on Tuesday, February 5th, the last day of the Games.  He clocked a time of 1 minute, 44.90 seconds, helping Team USA to sweep the race.  Barney's teammates Stephen Lynn and Matthew Krippel won Gold and Silver Medals, respectively.

While they were competitors on the slopes, Barney says that there was always a genuine sense of camaraderie among members of Team USA.

"I spent most of my time with other members of Team USA," Barney says.  "I made a lot of friends from all different states.  I was proud to be part of the team."

Prior to arriving in PyeongChang, Barney and his coach, Martha Pachuta, had the opportunity to bond with Team USA athletes on American soil.  On Thursday, January 24, all 213 members of the team gathered in Los Angeles for a special send-off ceremony at the Crowne Plaza before leaving for their two-week journey to South Korea the following day. 

Once in PyeongChang, a winter wonderland located in the Taebaek Mountains region of South Korea, the athletes were paired off as roommates.  They explored the area's sights, culture, and — to Barney's delight — the cuisine, which is largely based upon rice, noodles, tofu, vegetables, and meats, with plenty of side dishes.

"What I liked most about South Korea was the food," Barney says.  "It was a lot different from American food, but I tried a little bit of everything.  I really liked the chicken."

Other highlights included the World Winter Games opening and closing ceremonies, which brought together more than 3,000 athletes and their coaches from over 110 countries.  At the opening ceremony, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and Special Olympics International Chairman Timothy Shriver jointly kicked off the Games.

"That was good," Barney explained.  "The opening ceremony had a lot of people dancing.  And at the closing ceremony, we swapped jackets with athletes from other countries." 

Barney traded coats with an athlete from Russia, and today the jacket keeps him warm as he shovels snow from the sidewalk by Finders Keepers' Main Street storefront.  Always at home in the snow, Barney tackles the task-at-hand with the winning attitude of a world class athlete, as he reflects on his recent Olympic glory.

"I had a great time in South Korea," he says, adding with a smile, "They've got a lot more snow than us."

Monday, February 11, 2013

From Scrap Yard to Success: Hilltop's Ferrainolo Honored as "Outstanding Performer"

Fred Ferrainolo learned his first life lessons at a Springwater, NY junkyard, helping to dismantle wrecked vehicles and separate the usable parts from scrap metal.

"When I was 10 years old, my step dad taught me the junk business, how to make money at it, and the value of working hard every day," Fred says.  "Ever since then, I have always worked."

Fred Ferrainolo by the "potato line," where he inspected and
bagged potatoes for the New York State Department of
Corrections and Community Supervision, his first job at Hilltop.
Now 56, Fred works at Hilltop Industries, The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming's business services program in Mount Morris, NY. 

Five days a week, Fred is part of a team of workers with disabilities that inspects and bags dry beans as they move down an assembly line.  The beans, which arrive at Hilltop in 100-pound burlap sacks, are sorted into 50-pound bags as part of a contract  between Hilltop and the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (NYSDOCCS).  Fred's finished work is sent to Rome, NY where the beans are cooked and distributed to correctional institutions.

Fred was recently recognized for his work as an "Outstanding Performer" by New York State Industries for the Disabled (NYSID), as part of their annual William B. Joslin Awards.  NYSID is a not-for-profit agency that connects hundreds of private sector businesses to thousands of skilled people with disabilities in programs like Hilltop, and the Joslin Award is their most prestigious people-centered award.  Each year, just one Outstanding Performer is honored at each of NYSID's member agencies.

"Fred has faced serious challenges since joining Hilltop in 2001," says Hilltop Director Kellie Kennedy.  "The one constant for Fred has been his work on NYSID contracts and his pride in earning a good paycheck.  Even during times that his mental health deteriorated, it was his work that motivated him to get healthy so he could return to working on the NYSID contracts."

Fred is dually diagnosed with an intellectual disability and mental illness.  The two terms are often confused, but are very different. An intellectual disability is a condition where a person has significant difficulties in learning and understanding; mental illness is a disorder that affects feelings and behavior.  So Fred's disability is a life-long condition, while his mental illness requires separate, medical treatment.

While Fred's diagnoses are complex, his work ethic is straightforward, according to Hilltop Group Leader Kim Biondolillo, Fred's staff supervisor since 2005.

"Fred is soft spoken, polite, and gets along with his co-workers.  But what is most impressive about Fred is his willpower," she says.  "His strongest trait is an old-fashioned drive to always do his very best."

You could say that this award winner's road to Hilltop and The Arc was paved with hard work and scrap metal. 

Fresh from his experiences at his stepfather's junkyard, a 20-year-old Fred purchased his own trailer in 1977.  Located on a dirt road just blocks from his family home, the purchase set Fred back $5,000, "including the furniture," he says.  The humble residence would serve not only as his home, but eventually as the base for his own scrap metal business ventures.

"Next, I bought a 1975 Ford pickup from my brother, and began scrapping," Fred says.  "I did that for 15 years." 

As a scrapper, Fred would offer his services to remove metal for people who didn't need it, or needed to get rid of it.  Then he would haul the scrap to a wrecking yard, which would purchase it by the pound.  To help make ends meet, Fred also sold 55-gallon drums that were given to him by the wrecking yard, for use as burn-barrels. 

Eventually, Fred's talents also landed him a job as a handyman at a towing company in South Livonia.  He cut grass, shoveled snow, filled potholes, and helped to keep the garage clean. 

Despite his best efforts, Fred's mental health issues were taking a toll. Seeking additional structure for his life, Fred was referred to The Arc.  He viewed a future at Hilltop Industries with cautious optimism.

"Work is work, and I never complain about work," Fred explains.  "Besides, the (Arc Transportation) bus would pick me up.  I wouldn't have to drive, so I would save money on gas."

Fred's first Hilltop work assignment was on a NYSID contract grading and bagging potatoes for NYSDOCCS. He quickly developed a pride in working on this job, and often boasted about the important work he did supplying potatoes to New York State.

Fred tackled subsequent projects with equal enthusiasm.  In the years that followed, he would assemble spray pumps, pack safety glasses, and bag air gun pellets, before settling into his current assignment on the bean line.

"Fred is often known to share his pride in his job with others by taking burlap bean bags that are being discarded home to share with family and friends," Kellie says.  "Fred will tell you they are very useful for yard work or for storing items; he loves to recycle."

Even as Fred continued to set a positive example for co-workers, he was rocked by a personal tragedy.  In 2006, his mother, Dorothy, succumbed to breast cancer at the age of 74.  Finding himself lost without her grounding presence, Fred turned to Hilltop Industries' sister program, Arc Residential Services, for assistance. 

Arc Residential Services provides safe, secure housing for people with disabilities at 14 Individualized Residential Alternatives (IRAs) throughout Livingston and Wyoming counties.

Today, Fred lives with five other men at The Arc's Warsaw North IRA in Warsaw, NY.  While work continues to be his top priority, he can also be found riding his bike, collecting watches, and bragging about his three grandchildren.  Assisted by a full time staff, Fred is able to maintain a healthy, active lifestyle that even allows him to draw from his experiences as a handyman; he routinely helps neighbors with yard work.

Fred has come a long way from that Springwater junkyard.  But more than four decades after learning life's first lessons there, he hasn't lost sight of the value of hard work.  In fact, he has never paid closer attention to it; Fred routinely works with Warsaw North IRA staff to manage the money he earns at Hilltop—and he has the bank account to show for it.

"It has changed my life," Fred says.  "When I lived by myself, I would just spend all of my money.  Now all my money goes into my checking account.  I have quite a bit saved up."

Friday, February 1, 2013

Arc of L-W Payroll: Which Towns Lead the Pack?

As the area's largest not-for-profit agency providing services to individuals with intellectual and other developmental disabilities, The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming employs about 600 full-time, part-time, and per diem employees.  Our annual payroll of more than $13 million benefits the economies of dozens of local towns and villages.

When that payroll is broken down by county, The Arc benefits the Livingston County economy to the tune of more than $8 million, and Wyoming County at almost $2.7 million.   The remaining $2.3 million goes to employees in neighboring counties, including Steuben, Monroe, and Genesee.

Arc employees are everywhere—but when you break down our payroll by town, which towns lead the pack?  Here is the current "Top Five," based on annual figures for 2012:

Mount Morris .......... $1,629,899
Geneseo .................. $1,406,671
Dansville .................. $1,394,122
Perry ....................... $1,063,279
Nunda ..................... $775,863