You could say that KidStart food service aide Scott Kamakaris got an early start on his career; he first walked through his employer’s doors at the age of three.
In 1977, Scott was one of 12 young children in a fledgling program of The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming that would become known as KidStart, then located at the Holcomb Building on the SUNY Geneseo campus. For Scott, it was the beginning of a lifelong partnership with The Arc that would help him to become a mentor for the next generation of KidStart children.
“I feel really proud that I can work here today,” says Scott, now 42, who has worked at the early childhood center for more than 15 years. “There are many people I should thank. First, I want to thank God for giving me the ability to work with kids; second, my parents, for believing in me; and finally, the KidStart staff, kids, and parents for letting me work with your children.”
When Scott came to KidStart as a young child, his family was seeking special services for their son, who has a cognitive disability. “I remember getting services for speech,” Scott says. “Also, I learned my ABCs. I really enjoyed the building and the teachers.”
Those earliest experiences left an indelible impression on Scott, as they helped to prepare him for successful entry into the public school system. In the years that followed, he attended Keshequa Central School District, earning his diploma from Nunda High School.
Scott entered the workforce upon graduation from high school, securing a job at the Pizza Hut restaurant on South Street in Geneseo, where he worked for eight years. It was during his tenure there when Scott would reconnect with The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming. At the time, the Chapter operated supportive apartments on nearby Jacqueline Way.
Scott seized the opportunity to live a largely independent lifestyle, but with help from Arc staff to gain skills that he needed to transition into an apartment of his own.
“The process was very helpful,” Scott says. “I learned how to manage money, including banking, and paying bills.”
In 2002, Scott was comfortable enough to move to his own apartment, just around the corner on Megan Drive. He has since upgraded once again, to his current residence on Country Lane.
Welcome Back, Scott!
Scott took to volunteering as he became more independent, and in 2002, he returned to KidStart at the Holcomb Building, this time to help in classrooms by reading to young children. Much had changed within the walls of Holcomb, Scott recalls. The small program that had once served Scott and fewer than a dozen of his peers had expanded to meet the needs of hundreds of children with varying needs. But the focus remained consistent to Scott’s goals and vision.
“I like kids because if you’re nice to them, they’ll be nice to you,” Scott says. “I just always wanted to work with kids.”
Scott found happiness in his volunteer work at KidStart, and wanted to pursue a career as part of the program. That opportunity arose in May 2002, when Scott’s food service experience came to the attention of KidStart Dietitian Farrell McKendrick, who was in need of assistance as the program expanded its services.
“I was in one of the classrooms when the dietitian came in,” Scott recalls. “He said we were starting to serve lunches, and asked me if I would like a job. Of course I said yes.” That first job would see Scott conduct a daily head-count at each classroom, and ensure that the corresponding number of meals were delivered. After lunch, Scott would collect and wash the dishes.
As KidStart continues to expand, so have Scott’s responsibilities. In 2011, planned construction by SUNY Geneseo led to the relocation of KidStart headquarters from the Holcomb Building into the newly constructed Lehman Building, a 33,220-square-foot school in Groveland. At the Lehman Building, KidStart serves about 250 area children ranging in age from 6 weeks to 12 years old, who attend Day Care, Head Start and Special Services programs. Scott is part of a five-person kitchen team that ensures each child receives a healthy breakfast, lunch, and snack every day.
“That means lots and lots of dishes,” says KidStart Monitor/Training Supervisor Peg Cox, Scott’s supervisor in 2011. “One day, Scott wasn’t here, and I practically flooded the kitchen trying to fill in for him. To this day, he reminds me that I can’t do his job. I enjoy his sense of humor, and he is consistently very in tune to getting the job done in a timely fashion.”
Peg describes Scott as a “valuable employee,” and she is quick to point out that he takes on additional responsibilities beyond the kitchen when time allows. Scott has helped in several classrooms, and served as a substitute in KidStart’s Day Care program.
To save money, Scott usually holds down more than one job at a time. He currently supplements his KidStart paycheck by working at “The Lunch Cart,” serving food to peers and staff at The Arc’s Peterson Employment Center in Mount Morris.
In the past, Scott has worked in The Arc’s Transportation Department as a Bus Aide, ensuring that children with special needs are transported to and from school in a comfortable and protected manner.
“I would ride with them on the bus to keep them safe, help them to behave, and make sure they stay in their seatbelts,” Scott says.
Setting An Example
In the community, Scott attends the Lightstream Church in Geneseo, and is a member of Geneseo Rotary. He helps each summer at Genesee Valley Rotary Camp, and is a Paul Harris Fellow, a distinction given to those who contribute $1,000 or more to an approved Rotary grant activity. Scott donated his money to help eradicate polio through the PolioPlus program. “I just kind of had the money,” Scott says, humbly. “I wanted to donate it to a good cause.”
Scott is presently serving a term on the Board of Directors of The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming. He also serves on the Chapter’s Wellness Committee, and has been a member of the Special Review Committee.
“I’ve been through some tough times with people teasing me,” Scott says. “I know how it feels. That’s why I want to be out there, speaking up for people’s rights.”
Four decades after walking through KidStart’s doors as a child, Scott is greeted daily by a new generation of enthusiastic children who rely on him for vital services. It would easily earn him the title of Role Model, but Scott prefers to think of himself as something else: a grown-up “KidStart Kid.”
“The best things about my job are working in the kitchen, working around other people, and especially being around kids,” he says.