The Examiner

Mt. Kisco Business, Nonprofit Look Beyond Disabiliites to Help Others

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From left, Glenna Brown, employment specialist for Ability Beyond Disability, Jon Callahan and Mt. Kisco Truck and Auto Parts owner Steve Finkelstein.

Three years ago when Steve Finkelstein hired Jon Callahan as a part-timer he didn’t have any reservations that his new employee would be a benefit to his store.

Finkelstein, owner of Mt. Kisco Truck & Auto Parts, has been hiring disabled community members for nearly 15 years, ever since Ability Beyond Disability, a Connecticut-based organization that provides services for the handicapped, opened its New York office across the street from his business on Kisco Avenue.

Among the wide range of services it offers is job placement and Callahan, born with a developmental disability, has been a perfect fit for Finkelstein’s operation.

“They’re a regular employee. This is not a charity situation,” Finkelstein said. “The people who do the office work (for Ability Beyond Disability) are terrific. They match everybody. It’s helping but people shouldn’t look at this as being a charity because it’s not. I get great work out of them.”

Last month, Finkelstein bestowed his highest honor on Callahan, presenting him with the 2011 Employee of the Year Award. Finkelstein, who has about 45 employees between his Mount Kisco and Port Chester stores, and manager Allan Brideau agreed that Callahan has been one of the store’s most dedicated employees since coming aboard.

“He does everything, he doesn’t need to be told anything, he just gets right to work and he does it and there’s no complaints,” said Brideau, who is Callahan’s supervisor. “No fooling around. He’s a great employee. I wish I had more of them.”

Callahan works in the morning two days a week completing a variety of tasks such as breaking down boxes, sweeping floors and taking out garbage. He’s also approached Finkelstein about painting portions of the store’s interior, something that his boss is receptive to.

Glenna Brown, a Ability Beyond Disability employment specialist who oversees Callahan’s placement, said overcoming barriers is one of the challenges the organization and its clients face. Currently, there are about 90 people employed through the program, some born with disabilities, others who have suffered injuries or illness which has limited their mobility or other functions. Finkelstein currently has another part-timer come in one day a week to do office work.

“People have an idea that they would either be hiring someone who comes with problems or is like a token employee and wouldn’t really work,” Brown said. “Like Allan said, they are going to work the same as everybody else, if not harder, because there are so many ideas out there that they can’t or they won’t.”

There’s also a personal connection for Finkelstein. His older brother, Michael, was injured in a car accident at 21 years old, leaving him with a brain injury. Michael lives in the same Lewisboro group home as Callahan.

Once Ability Beyond Disability finds an employment match, an employment specialist stays with them during their shift until they can be on their own.

In their experiences, Finkelstein and Brown have watched firsthand how many who receive employment opportunities are among the hardest workers. Often, they are grateful for the chance to be productive, and like anybody else, meeting new people and earning some extra money is always something to look forward to.

“Once they get that opportunity, it’s not something to be squandered,” Brown said.

Ability Beyond Disability, formed nearly 60 years ago, serves about 1,700 people annually in Connecticut and Westchester, said Lisa Linsley, the organization’s community outreach coordinator. Along with job placement, other services include coordination of transportation, community-based day services and young adult programs and residential supports.

Despite employers being more open to hiring the disabled today, it does remain a hurdle.

“Over the years people have become more accepting of people with disabilities but it’s something that we need to advocate for,” Linsley said.

Callahan, who sported a broad smile when holding his picture last week at the store, said it felt great to be recognized.

“I feel proud and I’m happy,” he said.

For more information on Ability Beyond Disability, visit www.abilitybeyond


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