At the Jackson Lewis law firm in downtown White Plains, attorney Joseph A. Saccomano Jr. described the “wonderful impact” that two half-time employees have had on a workplace of about 90 attorneys, paralegals and support staff. And he gruffly dismissed any notion that Jackson Lewis, which last fall won Arc of Westchester’s Business Partner Award for employing people with autism and developmental disabilities, is an exemplar of corporate altruism with its hiring of those two young men.
“If you introduce people to the office who always do what they’re asked to do, it sets an example,” said Saccomano, the office’s managing principal. He was speaking of Joey and Kyle, Westchester residents in their 20s who work in the law firm’s office services department, doing everything from tending to the coffee and kitchen areas and several copy machines, to preparing the conference room for meetings, to cataloging documents for digital storage.
“This isn’t just for show here,” Saccomano said of the firm’s hiring of the men, two of the 225 disabled people who hold jobs at area companies through Arc of Westchester’s supported employment program. “These guys work. And I want to stress that this is meaningful work.”
“We’re not making concessions. This is a regular employment relationship,” with performance reviews and salary increases, he said. “They’re held to the same level of accountability as the other employees, which is an excellent standard. We’re talking about A-level performance, both in attendance and in performance when they’re here.”
“They’re nice to us,” Joey said of his office colleagues. For a visitor, he reeled off a list of jobs he performs during his morning shift when arriving from Armonk.
“They help keep us busy,” Kyle added. Kyle takes the train from Katonah to his afternoon job at the firm’s 44 S. Broadway office.
Kyle joined the employment law firm a few years ago as it was preparing to relocate its downtown office a short distance and vacate its space at 1 N. Broadway. “When he came here, it was a very busy time,” said Saccomano. “He really fed into that.”
“In the move from 1 N. Broadway, we moved almost 30 years of history.” Kyle was tasked with cataloging paper files for digital storage. “He worked his butt off on that process,” said Saccomano. “He’s very energetic. He’s a go-getter. Kyle was so successful, that’s what caused us to hire Joey” the next year.
With perfect attendance and earnest concentration on their work, Joey and Kyle bring some stability to a department where high employee turnover is typical. The uplift in collective pride and morale they’ve brought their Jackson Lewis colleagues, along with office conversations lightened by their “refreshing” habit of speaking unvarnished truth, have been unexpected bonuses, according to Saccomano.
Kyle and Joey are graduates of Project Search Collaborates for Autism, an employment program at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital in White Plains in which the hospital and Arc of Westchester partner with New York Collaborates for Autism and Southern Westchester BOCES to provide intensive job training and workplace internships to high school students with Autism Spectrum Disorder in their last year of school. The program at NewYork-Presbyterian Westchester Division is modeled after a national program started at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.
“Kyle and Joey came from that program,” said Tibisay A. Guzman, associate executive director and chief operating officer at Arc of Westchester and the driving force behind the growth of the agency’s community-based employment programs and its Project Search partnership. “These guys come out of there with a lot more confidence and able to sustain employment. They’re better prepared for that.”
A retired New York City hospital administrator, Guzman joined Arc of Westchester about 12 years ago, drawn to the agency serving developmentally disabled children and adults by a mother’s deep concern and questions about the future of her autistic son. “I decided to learn it from the inside,” she said.
Now 26, Guzman’s son, Daniel Sturr, lives in a group home and has worked for nearly five years as a facilities assistant at Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. through Arc’s supported employment program, which provides job coaches from the agency to assist both employers and employees in making a successful workplace match.
The state’s largest biotechnology employer, “Regeneron is one of our flagship organizations that support people with disabilities,” Guzman said. Joanne Deyo, vice president for facilities at Regeneron headquarters on the Landmark at Eastview life sciences campus, “has really opened the door for us and allowed us to grow there.”
Her son Daniel, said Guzman, “represents someone that I as a parent had thought he would never be employed. I would never have imagined that he could work at a company like Regeneron. Arc has really opened my eyes to the possibilities.” For disabled people like her son, “There’s so much opportunity to grow even as an adult. It doesn’t end with high school.”
Guzman said Arc of Westchester has about 350 people on the employment track — either hired, anticipating employment or interning with a business that plans to hire — including the 225 workers in the supported employment program. Arc in an average year finds new employment for about 50 people and partners with at least 10 new businesses a year. The agency works with 250 businesses that provide jobs and internships to Arc clients and typically communicates with 125 employers daily, she said.
The jobs include restaurant food preparation and service, light and heavy cleaning, computer work, data mining, shipping and receiving, and electrical preparation work for cables and wires. “We have a whole host of individuals working in retail,” Guzman said. “We have independent artists that sell their artwork. It’s not just typical bagging in supermarkets.” The agency can support many more employees in clerical jobs, she noted.
“We’re very interested in expanding the types of businesses that are out there,” said Guzman. “We still want more companies. I would like to see a lot more Fortune 500 companies in Westchester” in the program. “I also think we’re an asset to small and medium-size businesses” in need of part-time workers.
“I’ve given a message to businesses — not to worry, we’re there to hold your hand, to guide you so that the individual is an asset to the organization. …Our folks are reliable, extremely reliable, and that’s important. ”
“Employment really connects the individual to the community,” said Guzman. “Community integration, we call it. A business like Jackson Lewis does that quite easily.”
At Jackson Lewis, said Saccomano, “What I didn’t know was going to happen when I hired Kyle was the impact it was going to have on the staff. They love teaching these guys, showing them the ropes and watching them blossom. There’s a real connection between the staff members and these two gentlemen.”
Hiring the disabled young men “also created a little bit of extra pride in the office,” the lawyer said, as “a special place, a place for everybody. I’ve had staff members walk into my office and tell me, this is the best thing we ever did. Repeatedly — ‘This is the best thing you ever did.’”
“This is not a sacrifice for the offices of Jackson Lewis,” Saccomano stressed. “All we did was say yes to a company (Arc of Westchester) that we have respected for 15 years.”
“It’s not about doing the right thing.”