"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.
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."
THE ROAD TO HILLTOP
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."
ON THE JOB
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.
A HAPPY HOME
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."