National Disability Awareness Month
Like most Americans, at some point in your life, you wake up and go to work. Now whether you were looking forward to it or not, that is another story. People with disabilities want the same thing, but they face discrimination, have a more difficult time securing a job. Time and again I have the same conversation with self-advocates expressing their wish to have a job and the chance to do something they consider purposeful.

I share this story about someone near and dear to my heart.  As a lifelong resident of Rensselaer County my first paid job as a high school student was as a dishwasher at a downtown Troy restaurant. This is how I met John. John and I would ride the Albia bus and chat. Months might go by between us seeing each other, but the minute John saw me climb the bus steps he was smiling and shouting hello. John was always hustling, working two or three jobs and wondering how to squeeze another one in his spare time. He possessed a great attitude and a contagious smile. I couldn’t help but smile at the sight of him, always with his latest gadget. He always brightened my day.

The years rolled on, I went to college and then returned to the area. I started working at the Arc and John and I were reunited, picked up right where we left off.  About 5 years ago we started hanging out together outside of work. At first we went RPI Football games. This progressed to meeting for lunch and then to joining my family on outings and attending shows that my kids were performing in. John would never sit idly. Soon he had the volunteer job of setting up and handling the concession stand. He was excellent at both, and his quick way of working always left me marveling at his abilities. He would go back to the office on Monday and tell everyone how he helped. You could tell how proud it made him feel.

A reoccurring theme in so many of our conversations was how badly John wanted a job. He always mentioned the many applications he submitted, and the job he was going to get. Of course the next time I saw him no job ever came through. I realized that John, being 74 years young, was probably not going to get that employment offer. I spoke to Alisa Hobb, the Chief HR Officer here at The Arc. She absorbed the conversation and came back to me with a proposal to hire John to sell coffee at the Arc Main Office. I immediately loved the idea and started sketching out how much we could make for our DSP fund out of each can of coffee. We held a meeting with John, and he was accepting the position even before we could finish. John said he wasn’t lazy, he could do it. John’s Coffee Cart was born. On John’s first day he arrived at the office three hours before his shift because he was so excited to work. That attitude never changed in his time here at the
office. Imagine someone coming in saying I love my job, and what else can I do to help out. John would bless our halls every Monday and Tuesday, and if he missed a day, he was asking when he could make that day up. Soon the staff where depending on him to bring coffee and a smile. I soon noticed people walking with a little more pep in their step. It was not the caffeine from his coffee, it was the will of his positive energy which leaped from his service with a smile. John always delivered, having an engaging banter specific to each staff member. Through all the weeks of work John would stop in and give me ideas; maybe we should have cocoa, hot tea, or even his plan to add soup. He would say, “Don, my customers want this, or they should be able to get that.”  I fondly remember Columbus Day being a flexible holiday and John asking if he could work Friday because he was missing a day's pay.  I had to laugh at he knew the payroll system and dates and was going to maximize his hours.  Even as John’s illness got the better of him he asked, “Don you are not here to fire me are you? I love that job.” 

I use John as an example, but he is no exception. His work ethic reinforces a long standing believe I have that people, no matter what their abilities and disabilities are, want to add value to the world. The onus is on us, as a society, to change beliefs and prejudices so that people more readily look at abilities instead of disabilities and finding that niche for each person so they can have a meaningful job and help their community thrive. Now that National Disability Awareness Monthis behind us, don’t let the spirit end. Go forth each day trying to help others reach their potential. Give them that shot at employment and empowerment. If you own a business or know a business that is hiring, put in a good word for the Arc. We have many people with the same passion and work ethic as John who would love to have a fulfilling career, make their own money, and feel fulfilled and successful.

It is with great sadness to bring this note to a close by letting you know that John passed away yesterday. November 3, losing his battle to cancer. He was 75 years young.

Donald J Mullin, CEO
Community Partners Breakfast
 A Success
The Arc of Rensselaer County celebrated National Disability Employment Awareness month with our annual Community Partners Breakfast on October 24th. Over 150 people attended the breakfast, sharing friendship and achievements. A heartfelt thank you to the committee who made this event possible.
Among our guests who spoke were our Presenting sponsor Kelly Smith from MVP Health Care and Mayor Patrick Madden. Both spoke of how fortunate they felt to be able to a friend and partner with the Arc and the work we do to support individuals to live their best lives.
Lydia Kulbida from WTEN News presented the awards to three award winning business partners: John Murphy from Environmental Management Council; Scott Craven from Sodexo; and Dominic Herald from HVCC, were honored for their work as employment supervisors and supportive mentors for people with disabilities.
In addition to honoring our community partners the Office of Senator Gillibrand sent a representative to read a proclamation honoring Carrie Painter and Lucinda Ballard for their achievement of being entered into the Women's Hall of Fame for Strong Non-Profits for a better New York. To be considered for this award, you have to make a positive impact in your employment in the Human Service Field as well as make a positive impact in your local community.

The finishing touch of the morning came with the keynote speakers Jennifer Dietzway (right) and Kendra Wallace (at podium). Jennifer, a supervisor at Macy's at Colonie Center, supports Kendra at her job of taking care of the dressing rooms and restocking items left behind. Jennifer spoke of how Kendra embodied the key principles of Macy's and how Kendra has grown in her position to now include being part of a team of trainers for new employees. Many guests were moved to tears as Kendra spoke of her disability and how she does not allow it to stand in her way of achieving her goals. Kendra gave credit to her job coach, Missy Reynolds for all of her support and help.
Self-Advocates Haunt The Night
Where were you the night of October 24th? If you asked this question to a self-advocate there is a good chance they would tell you they were rocking the night away at the Self-Advocate Haunted House Fundraising Dance. In record breaking numbers close to 200, people, adorned in scary and not so scary costumes enjoyed a ziti and meatball supper as well as a haunted house. Volunteers from the self-advocates, Arc staff, as well as 5 community volunteers ages 11-16 all worked to give a little spook to those who were brave enough to give the haunted house a try!
RPI Presents Gift To Brunswick Center Services For Their Sensory Room
An interactive structure designed, built, and programmed by student engineers from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute was presented to The Arc's Brunswick Center on October 23.

Student engineers are challenged to solve real-world problems in their Swanson Multidisciplinary Design Laboratory. The technical challenges they address come from industry leaders, non-profits, or entrepreneurial ventures.
This new structure is made from cherry wood and lined with LED lights that change color, sand disks that rotate, and buttons that allow people to interact. Student engineers designed, constructed, and programmed the system. Unlike most sensory spaces, which are geared toward children, this one was created for adults.

“This is going to give people a space to go that is calm and relaxing,” said Don Mullin, Chief Executive Officer of the organization. “Down the road for the community, I think it’s going to be huge because there’s nothing like this in Rensselaer County.” 

“The multidisciplinary capstone course provides a project-based learning experience that gives students a realistic engineering experience before they transition to professional careers. As they will encounter in the industry, the teams interact with the customer to learn their needs, translate those needs into technical requirements, and design a solution,” said Kathryn Dannemann, director of the Multidisciplinary Design Laboratory. “The hard work and dedication of the student project team, and guidance from Design Lab faculty and staff mentors, made the Sensory Feature a reality.”

“It was a lot easier to move forward knowing we were delivering to a real customer who would really help people,” said Dan Gay, who graduated this past May with degrees in materials science and engineering, and computer science.
Emily Franklin, who recently graduated with a mechanical engineering degree, also said that interacting with people served by the Arc helped to put the project into perspective. “You want it to succeed, because you want them to succeed,” she said.

Thank you to our partners at RPI for taking our visions and making them become a reality!
The Arc Walks For Cancer
On October 25 Arc Employees came together to walk in the Night Out For You Harvest Hustle in dedication to our Self-Advocate and Staff member John Larose. Many might know him as our "Coffee Cart Guy". Garnishing the name the "Coffee Cart Crew" wearing bright orange lanyards (something you would never see John without) the team completed a 5K course at the Town of Colonie Mohawk River and Pool Park. John was a recipient of a Night Out for You in August. You can find out more about the mission of Night Out For You by going to their website.
Cooking Class At Respite
For the last several years, our nutritionist Kalynn Droz, has run a cooking class at our Respite House with the goal of enhancing the cooking skills of self-advocates. Kalynn stated that it was a great pleasure bring people together and teach them about nutrition and balanced meals. In addition they learn to follow easy recipes and set a table.
Arc Of Rensselaer County

All work and no play was not the motto for our fun loving staff who joined in to make Halloween a day to remember. A pumpkin decorating contest came to a close with Cinderella's Coach winning first place, while costumes a plenty, from staff and self advocates, added a special touch to the day.
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