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 tsick@lwarc.org 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.

Monday, November 24, 2014

LEAVING A MARK: Fitness “Mayor” Joe Galante Leads by Example


A commitment to fitness has left a permanent mark on Joe Galante — and he displays it prominently on the deltoid of his right arm.

The 34 year old Conesus man recently rewarded himself with a dream tattoo of his favorite zoo animal, a rhinoceros, for losing more than 30 pounds through a daily exercise regimen.

"It took a long time, but it was worth it," Joe says.  "I go to the gym every day.  I weigh myself when I get there and then again when I leave.  I write it down, and show it to my 'buds.'  When it was down to 175 pounds, I could go to Crazy Joe Tattooing (in Avon) for my tattoo."

Joe, who has Down syndrome, is a participant in The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming's Recreation Program, and a regular customer at Livonia Fitness, where he is not only a success story, but the club's unofficial social director.

"He's actually the mayor of this gym," says fellow member Bob Mulvihill.  "He introduces people who don't already know each other.  That's just the way he is; he wants everybody to be friends."

Joe has worked out religiously at Livonia Fitness since 2004.  More than just a way to get lean and build muscle, the gym provides Joe with independence and a support network of friends. 

Each weekday, Joe takes an RTS bus to the gym, where he weighs himself in at 8:00am. He's greeted by his regular community of "buds," as Joe calls members and staff — and an hour and 45 minutes of weight training, cardio, and friendly banter ensues. 

As Joe strives to advance his own health, he creates an inspirational atmosphere for others, according to Personal Trainer Terri Mingus.

"Joe has a lot of friends here," Terri says. "He has always introduced himself to other members, but I think that he's become even more outgoing as he sees that he's well accepted here.  He has become a big part of the gym, and I think people look forward to seeing him."

Over time, Joe's gym friends have become more like an extended family.  In recent years, Joe, his mom, and dad have opened up their home for an annual picnic, which offers gym-mates a glimpse at another aspect of Joe's life.  More than a dozen Livonia Fitness “buds” typically attend.

At home, they've learned, this gym mayor governs a different kind of flock.

While there are no rhinos to be found, Joe's large backyard is a sanctuary for dozens of other animals, including chickens, geese, cats, dogs, a donkey, and a pony.

Joe's parents, Joseph Senior and Sue, established the farm as a job opportunity for Joe.  Each day, Joe tends to all of the animals, and gathers eggs from the henhouse that he ultimately sells to earn spending cash and develop money management skills.  In fact, some of his gym buds have become his best customers.

"I don't care whether he makes a whole lot of money," Sue says.  "What's more important is that he is fulfilled, doing something useful, and has responsibilities that give him purpose.  To us, the most important things are to have a purpose and enjoy life."

When he's not working out or working on his farm, Joe enjoys professional wrestling, movies, and video games in a "man cave" located in the lower level of his family home.  Through the Arc Recreation program, which receives United Way funding, Joe is also able to take part in outings such as bowling, ceramics classes, dinners, shopping trips, parties, and dances.

The dances, in particular, give Joe the chance to expend the extra energy that has come with his significant weight loss — and to do so in his own inimitable style.

"He's a high-energy guy who you want there when you throw a party," says Arc Recreation Department Life Skills Assistant Gary Buchanan.  "Especially the Halloween dances.  He always has one of the best costumes there.  Joe has been Jigsaw (from the 'Saw' movies), and (WWE wrestler) The Undertaker."

Joe currently weighs in at 170, down from his peak weight of about 210 pounds.  His next goal is to get down to 160, at which time he'll treat himself to some additional ink.
 
He's tight-lipped about his next tattoo design, and laughs when one of his buds jokingly suggests that he complete the rhino motif with the tail end of the animal on his left arm.

Whatever his decision, if history is any indication, Joe's action will make a mark on the people around him, too.

"The funny thing is, I was meaning to get a tattoo of my own," Gary says.  "One day in the Recreation van, Joe rolls up his sleeve and says, 'Look what I just got.'  So I went through with it, too.  I got an Irish cross and the Pittsburgh Pirates insignia.  Joe gave me the guts and inspiration."

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Self-Defense Session Boosts Confidence, Safety

Ten individuals with disabilities are able to walk more confidently in their communities thanks to a self-defense session brought to them by The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming Foundation and the agency’s Service Coordination program.

John Ingallina demonstrates a
self-defense technique on Chris Clark
After a few individuals expressed safety concerns with regard to their community time, Service Coordinator Tara Collaro began to explore the possibility of self-defense training. Tara’s search ultimately led her to John Ingallina, Head Instructor for United Martial Arts Center, and the possibility of broadening the scope of the training.

“Ultimately, we realized that we serve a number of individuals who would benefit from such a program or seminar,” Tara says. “Because of the direction our field is headed, more and more individuals will be seeking supports and services allowing them to live within their communities, whether in their own apartments or with family members.”

Due to the fixed incomes of many of the individuals who potentially would be interested in the seminar, the Service Coordination team sought financial assistance from The Arc Foundation to bring the program to its intended audience. The Foundation raises money through events such as the annual “Friends Fore Life” golf tournament, Ramon Rocha 5K Run/Walk, and Harvest Fest, and then distributes it to support services that maintain and enhance the quality of life for individuals with disabilities and their families.

The Foundation funded the bulk of the session, which was held Wednesday evening, August 27th, at a cost of just $5 per participant. Service Coordinator Amaris Peffers and Service Coordination Director Jen Warner joined the instructor to offer support and guidance to the participants.

Participants were taught easily executed techniques to escape from or incapacitate an attacker. Focus areas included the application of verbal, psychological, and physical self-defense strategies.

“It was very interactive, and John was able to keep participants well engaged,” Jen says. “The relatively small size of the group enabled John to work with individuals on the techniques until they were comfortable doing them. John talked to the group about how they carry themselves while out in the community can affect whether a potential attacker views them as an easy target or not ... Some expressed concern about being able to recall some of the techniques during a real life situation. However, even if they only recall a couple of elements -- like yelling loudly, walking confidently, etc. -- they will be better off than they were before participating in the seminar.”

Participant Lisa Irwin says she walks with her head a little higher since attending the session.

“I thought it was a lot of fun,” Lisa says. “But more important was the lessons we learned. They taught us how to escape if someone grabs you by the wrist or if someone is bullying you. I feel safer now.”

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Cheryl Englert Named NYSARC Volunteer of the Year


Cheryl Englert accepts the NYSARC Volunteer of the Year Award, with Marcy VanZandt and Chris Peterson

Cheryl Englert, a 35-year member of The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming Board of Directors, has received the prestigious Volunteer of the Year award from NYSARC, Inc., America's largest organization supporting people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities (IDD). 

Cheryl Englert
"When you think of Cheryl Englert, you think The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming," says Arc Board President Marcy VanZandt, of Castile.  "I first met Sherry at a parent meeting in 1998 while looking for occupational and residential opportunities for my daughter, Casey.  We struck up a friendship then, and she has been a mentor to me ever since."

Mrs. Englert's son, Matt, has been enrolled at The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming since early childhood, when he was among the first children in the agency's fledgling children's services program known today as KidStart.  Today, Matt is 38 years old, lives in an Arc-operated home in Dansville, and participates in day programs at The Arc.

A Teacher of Special Education at Genesee Valley Educational Partnership, Mrs. Englert has held every officer position on The Arc Board during her volunteer career.  At the state level, she has served on the NYSARC Board of Governors since 1985.

"Being the parent of a son with a developmental disability has provided me with motivation to not only help people with IDD, but to also assist numerous families over the years to guide them to system supports," says Mrs. Englert, who lives in Wayland with her husband, Fred.

Mrs. Englert's track record speaks for itself, according to her peers on The Arc Board of Directors.

“Cheryl Englert epitomizes the word ‘volunteer’,” says Board Vice President Linda Unger, of Geneseo.  “She devotes every waking moment that she is not spending as a special education teacher to chairing committees, and providing leadership and advocacy for the individuals and staff of The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming.  She provides a constant and positive presence at nearly all Arc events as not only a volunteer but as a cheerleader, encouraging everyone to enjoy the moment and always do their best.   Sherry, or ‘Matt's Mom‘ as she is well known by everyone, has truly devoted and dedicated her life to making a better life for her son Matt and all the people served by The Arc.”

Cheryl Englert and family
"I have known Sherry for many years in her various roles as a special educator, parent of a son with developmental disabilities, and committee and Board member,” adds fellow Arc Board member and parent Diane Armbruster, of Geneseo.  “She is dedicated, persistent, and untiring in her efforts toward a better life for individuals with disabilities.  Sherry is really everywhere throughout our agency, and I can't imagine there could be many to rival how much of her life in time and effort she has devoted to The Arc."

In addition to serving on The Arc Board of Directors, Mrs. Englert is secretary of the separate Arc of Livingston-Wyoming Foundation Board.  The Foundation is the hands-on fundraising arm of The Arc, generating money through events such as the annual Friends “Fore” Life golf tournament, Ramon Rocha 5K Run/Walk, and Harvest Fest, and distributing it to support services that maintain and enhance the quality of life for individuals with disabilities and their families.

“I have had the good fortune to serve on many boards in my lifetime.  Without exception, Sherry has been a role model for me in my actions and performances in these other organizations.  She epitomizes volunteerism in every sense,” says Arc Foundation Board President Tim McCallum, of Perry.

The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming is a parent-founded 501(c)(3) not-for-profit agency that enhances the lives of more than 800 individuals with IDD annually, who rely on Arc residential, vocational, KidStart, transportation, and community programs.  As America's largest organization of its kind, NYSARC, Inc. supports more than 60,000 individuals with IDD through 54 chapters across New York State.

Mrs. Englert received her award at the 65th annual NYSARC convention, held October 17th in Albany.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Arc Enrichment Players Follow the Yellow Brick Road

http://www.lwarc.org/page01_wizard_of_oz_group.jpg
Front (L-R): Theatre staff Caitlin Barry, Julie Covey, Casey VanZandt, Patty Thorne, Hannah Brown, Justine Deluca, Mark Hathaway, Billy Driscoll, Maurice Maynard, theatre staff Cathie Barry. Middle (L-R):  Theatre staff Rick Barry, Joe Wright, Arc staff Gloria Soto, Mary Budrewicz, Kim Deiter, Matt Klein, John Woods.  Back (L-R):  Gary Hayes, Bethany Koslicki, Robert Maplesden, Lisa Irwin, Miranda Snyder.  Not pictured:  Heather Bump, Charles Parker.

They’re off to see the Wizard, thanks in part to a generous grant from NYSARC, The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming’s state organization.

Financing for The Arc Enrichment Program’s upcoming musical journey to the Emerald City is being provided by NYSARC Trust Services.

Earlier this year, the NYSARC Trust Services Board approved a remainder fund grant of $10,000 per NYSARC chapter to provide recreational opportunities for people they support. According to Coordinator of Day, Community & Intake Services Cathy Sullivan, the money was enough for a round-trip “over the rainbow” -- and then some!

Approximately $2,000 of the grant will be used to offset the costs associated with producing two performances of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” scheduled for 2:00pm and 5:00pm Saturday, November 15th at Theatre 101, located at 101 Main Street in Mount Morris. The remaining $8,000 was used to help fund a six dances, a Halloween bash attended by 175 people and the recent Hilltop picnic.

But while NYSARC Trust Services paved a financial yellow brick road for their trip to Oz, the journey has also required courage, brains, and an awful lot of heart by all involved -- from the on-stage movers, shakers, and munchkins to behind-the-scenes talent.

“The best part of doing a show with The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming every fall is the joy they bring to us,” says Cathie Barry, co-owner of Theatre 101. “They are the most willing, most caring, forgiving, loving people on Earth, and the most fun! This is our favorite annual event; we look forward to it every year.”

Cathie and her husband, Rick, have produced three previous shows featuring Arc talent, including a production of Truman Capote’s “The Thanksgiving Visitor,” Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” and an original production called “America US.” For their involvement, the couple was recently honored with a 2014 Arc Foundation Hero Award.

Their close familiarity with the core group of men and women in The Arc Enrichment Program made “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” an easy pick as this year’s production.

“We looked around the class last fall and saw characters from The Wizard of Oz,” Cathie says. “We knew they would love working on it and presenting it to family and friends.”

Justine Deluca as Dorothy
… and her little dog, too!
Primary cast members include Justine Deluca as Dorothy, Mark Hathaway as the Tin Man, Billy Driscoll as the Scarecrow, Maurice Maynard as the Not-So-Cowardly Lion, Robert Maplesden as the Wizard, Patty Thorne as the Wicked Witch, and Hannah Brown as Glinda the Good Witch.

“I’m looking forward to the show,” says Hannah, who is a veteran of past Enrichment Group performances. “(Cathie and Rick) make it fun for people at all skill levels, and we get to try new things with each performance. I felt a little bit of stage fright when I had a lead role in ‘The Thanksgiving visitor,’ but I’m pretty relaxed this time.”

To join Hannah and the rest of the Enrichment crew for their trip to Oz, tap your ruby slippers together three times and call PR Director Jeff Thomas at 585-658-2828 ext. 128 for ticketing information.



About NYSARC Trust Services Funding
Last year The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming received a similar grant from NYSARC Trust Services to offset the costs of Valentine's, St. Patrick's Day, Halloween, and Semi-formal dances, as well as a Bowling Banquet for individuals with disabilities throughout its service area.  On average, 110 people were in attendance at each event.

In addition, remainder fund grants totally $1,660,500 were awarded to support NYSARC guardianship programs statewide.  A total of $2,207,880 in remainder grants were awarded in 2014 to support recreation and guardianship statewide.  NYSARC Trust Services administers supplemental needs trusts that enable people with disabilities to remain in their home and community while retaining Medicaid services and other government benefits.   Information is available on how NYSARC Trust Services may benefit you:  their website www.nysarctrustservices.org , phone 1-518-439-8323, toll free phone 1-800-735-8924 or e-mail info@nysarctrustservices.org. 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

A Parent's Appeal: Speak Up For Our Families @ 10/6 Meeting

Hello families, friends, and professionals:

Karen Duboy and family
I would like to thank everyone who was able to make our second family advocacy group meeting held last week, and invite all of you to our next meeting at 7:00pm Monday, November 17 at Hilltop, 3 East State Street in Mount Morris.

It is so exciting to hear from people with the same passion when it comes to making sure our individuals with special needs are living happy, productive, and loving lives.  We must stand tall, stick together, and speak strong to continue the programs our loved ones want and need, and not let others who do not have any clue tell us they know what is best.

Please try to attend the Community Dialogue Video Conference being held 3:00-6:00pm Monday, October 6 at the DDSO office, 129 Main Street in Leicester. This will give you a chance to tell OPWDD your thoughts on the current issue of shutting down the workshop at The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming. I personally feel this is only the beginning of huge changes in other programs.  This shutdown will have a ripple effect to future programs.  So now is the time for all of us to tell Albany our thoughts. 

Please come, even if you have to arrive late or leave early.  Don't be afraid or intimidated by this process; it is just a community meeting, where concerned family members like you and I can freely express our views to the NYS agency.  I attended the one last fall and will be at this one.  This is your forum to contribute to the cause!

If you want any other information, please feel free to call me at 786-5806 (home), email me at dubie@bluefrog.com, or call Jeff Thomas at 658-2828 or Kellie Kennedy at 658-3311.


Sincerely, 
 
Karen Duboy
Parent / Family Advocacy Group Chairperson

Harvest Fest Fundraiser to Serve Up Food, Family Fun October 15th


Tickets are on sale now for "Harvest Fest: A Celebration of Food from Field to Table," 5:30-7:30pm Wednesday, October 15 at the American Legion Hall in Warsaw Village Park. Admission is $10 per person, or $25 for a family of four, and includes food tasting, local products, children's activities, raffles, and more. 

Now in its third year, Harvest Fest will spotlight a wide variety of delicious food tasting items prepared by local chefs, utilizing fresh produce and ingredients from local growers. All proceeds will benefit The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming and the Wyoming County Business Education Council (BEC).  The Arc provides services to developmentally disabled individuals and their families in Livingston and Wyoming Counties. The BEC assists local youth in becoming productive workers, lifelong learners, and better prepared for career choices.

"(Harvest Fest) is a way to celebrate our local growers, our great local chefs and restaurants, and create a social opportunity to get reconnected with members of the Wyoming County community in a farm-market, family atmosphere," says BEC Executive Director Linda Leblond, one of the event coordinators.

Vendors are constantly being added.  Among those already booked are The Abbey of the Genesee, The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming Wellness Committee, Arts Council for Wyoming County, Burlingham Books, Byrnclifff Resort & Conference Center, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Wyoming County, Deer Run Winery, Fidelis Care, Golden Oaks Foods, Gordon & Karen Almeter, Kramell's Meat Market and Barbeque, Once Again Nut Butter, Pioneer FFA, Sage Family Maple, Sick's Acres Farm, Wegmans, and the Wyoming County Dairy Princess.

"Something that differentiates us from other events is our focus on a family atmosphere," says Jeff Thomas, Public Relations Director for The Arc.  "The Harvest Fest experience goes far beyond food tasting.  For example, Burlingham Books will oversee a children's area, with a focus on fun literacy-based activities.  Fidelis Care is also offering arts and crafts.  Most importantly, we keep the tickets very affordable.  We are proud that families who attend our event get a lot for their dollar."

To reserve tickets, visit www.lwarc.org, or call 658-2828 x133 (The Arc) or 237-3010 (BEC).  Tickets are also available at M&T Bank’s Perry, Silver Springs, and Nunda locations.

Harvest Fest is made possible in part by a generous contribution from M&T Bank. Additional financial support is being provided by Farm Credit East and Genesee Valley Federal Credit Union.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Seniors Fundraiser Takes Flight



Jack Driscoll (left), 89, and Ted Hall (right), 77, paid tribute to the Greatest Generation who served the US during the Second World War by presenting a donation of $171 from The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming's Open Roads Seniors Program to the National Warplane Museum.  The money helped to pay for fuel in the "Return to Normandy Project," which launched May 15th in Geneseo, and reached the skies over the Normandy region of France 16 days later.

The successful mission of the Return to Normandy Project was to return the museum's flagship Douglas C-47 to France for the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. The "Whiskey 7," affectionately known by her distinctive squadron marking, was the lead ship of the 37th Troop Carrier Squadron, dropping elements of the 82nd Airborne Division near St. Mere Eglise, France in the early hours of June 6th, 1944.

Seventy years later, Whiskey 7 participated in the anniversary commemorations by dropping members of the Liberty Jump Team over the original D-Day drop zones.  Ted says that it was an honor for Seniors to play a small part in an event to honor World War II veterans.

"There is a lot of rich history in this area, and the National Warplane Museum is one example," he explains.  "It serves as a reminder of the brave people who have fought over the years to preserve our freedom.  We owe a lot to them, and we are glad to give back in our own small way." 

The Seniors group raised its contribution through an ice cream social held at various Arc locations on Tuesday, May 6th.  In total, 57 bowls of ice cream were consumed at a cost of $3 per bowl in their one-of-a-kind “ice cream for fuel” effort.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Visit The Arc This Week At Pike Fair

"From Pioneer Ways to Modern Days" is the theme of this year's Wyoming County Fair, underway now through Saturday, August 16th in the heart of Pike, NY.  Be sure to visit The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming's all-new booth in the Commercial Building during our regular Fair hours, 11:00am through 10:00pm daily.  Get acquainted with the outstanding people and services that have helped grow and shape The Arc through the years into the area's largest organization for people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities and their families.  The Arc booth features giveaways, on-the-spot membership sign-up, fun for kids, video, information for families, and more!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

David France: Hilltop All-Star


One of baseball's greatest shortstops, Derek Jeter, is leaving the lineup at the end of this season.  Hilltop Industries worker David France can often be found sporting a Yankees shirt emblazoned with Jeter’s iconic No. 2.  He cites the All-Star a role model, and says that the 20-year veteran's words have served as a source of strength:

"There may be people who have more talent than you, but there's no excuse for anyone to work harder than you do.”

For David, a Dansville native, Hilltop contracts for janitorial services aren't just jobs; they are a daily relief from the pain of a rare genetic disorder that affects movement in his legs.

"I have to push myself," says David, who suffers from Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP).  "Movement is really the only thing that makes my legs feel a whole lot better.  At work, when I'm getting fewer hours in a week, my legs will really start to hurt.  If I can put in a couple of extra hours a week doing cleaning jobs, that's when the benefit kicks in."

HSP is a group of inherited diseases whose main feature is progressive stiffness and contraction in the lower limbs as a result of damage to or dysfunction of the nerves.  It is not a form of cerebral palsy, but manifests itself in similar ways, such as difficult, painful walking.

David's condition is classified as a "rare disease" by the National Institutes of Health, which means that the disorder affects fewer than 200,000 people in the US population.  No specific treatment is known that would prevent, slow, or reverse it, and individual prognoses vary in severity.  David is hopeful, but understandably cautious after witnessing his late mother, uncle and grandfather struggle with HSP's debilitating effects.

"I started feeling it pretty bad in late 2002, but I didn't get it looked at until 2012," admits David, who walks with a noticeably abnormal gait.  "At that point, I had a series of MRIs, where doctors diagnosed my HSP and also removed a bad disc in my back. The doctor who performed my surgery said that my HSP might not progress beyond what it is right now, or -- on the other hand -- it might land me in a wheelchair someday."

Shortly after his surgery, David enrolled at Hilltop.  David, who also has a diagnosed learning disability, had held various jobs throughout his life, but "nothing big time," he says.  But janitorial work was in his blood; both his mother and father had held cleaning jobs, his father at SUNY Geneseo and his mother at local homes, doctor's offices, and businesses.

After demonstrating his work ethic as part of a Hilltop enclave at a local print shop, David soon began taking on NYSID contracts, with a determination to continue a family tradition of high-quality janitorial work.

"I like the challenge of my job," David says.  "I like trying to meet the needs of what has to be done, and trying to improve each time.  I have a pickiness about cleaning.  I want the places that I clean to look like a five star hotel."

Today, David's cleaning skills are in high demand, and he is able to earn a living wage at it thanks to the NYSID Preferred Source Program. He typically juggles multiple community cleaning jobs, including NYSID contracts at the New York State Department of Transportation (DOT)/Livingston County site and the Finger Lakes DDSO Dogwood Day Services location. Hilltop also entrusts David with its in-house cleaning, and to clean at KidStart, its sister children's services program.

"Because we are a highway building, it tends to get very dirty," explains Melody Whitaker, office manager at the DOT.  "There is a lot of dust, dirt, the guys track in tons of mud, and sometimes it's like there ought to be a hazmat sign on the guy's bathroom.  David does a fantastic job.  You don't have to stand over him; he just knows what to do, and he does it right the first time."

"Even with his disability, he can outwork most people," adds Hilltop Supported Employment Manager Diane Parker, who supervises David.  "It's like he can see dirt a mile away.  He'll just look at something and know that it needs dusting.  David takes great pride in his work."

David typically works as part of a team of 2-4 Hilltop workers, cleaning offices, bathrooms, hallways, and emptying trash receptacles.  As the de facto leader of his team, David's friendly demeanor and eye for quality set a positive example for his peers.

"I try to offer advice to the other workers," David says.  "When I first was suggesting things to one of my coworkers, I wasn't sure how much she appreciated it.  But before I knew it, she was trying to keep up with me, and I was getting compliments about her work.  She ended up getting a $12 per hour job.  It was inspiring to help somebody else get ahead."

David is frugal with his own earnings, using his paychecks mostly for food, rent, and medicine needed to manage his HSP.  He shares a modest apartment with his brother, located above David's doctor's office.  Family means a lot to David, so he puts extra money in the bank whenever he can, hoping to use it to visit out-of-state relatives.

Equal to the dedication that David shows at work is his passion for helping others.  Over the years, he has cared for frail family members and friends.  Presently, David often spends his day off with an elderly uncle who has taken up residence at the Center for Nursing & Rehabilitation on Murray Hill in Mount Morris.

"I like to do it, and the fact that it is on a steep hill helps with my Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia," David says.  "I walk as much as I can when I'm up there."

David continues to face life's challenges with positivity and good humor.  Last summer, while on a short walk from Hilltop to a neighboring restaurant, David took a fall.  The resulting injury kept him from his job for close to two months.

"I couldn't stand it," David says, reflecting on his medical leave from work.  "I sat still for three days, and then I couldn't take anymore.  Before you knew it, I was going all over town in a wheelchair.  People were asking, 'What's this fool doing?'  But I can't just stand to sit still.  I’m a stubborn person; let's put it that way."