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.”