Five years ago, Andrew Sass studied on the SUNY Geneseo campus, as part of a program in which students with disabilities enhance their education and social skills while benefiting overall college diversity.
Today, Andrew works on the campus he once attended, and he’s being lauded by co-workers at Campus Auxiliary Services (CAS) for his commitment to diversity.
Andrew recently received a certificate of accolades from his peers at CAS’s Letchworth Dining Hall for “… going out of (his) way to talk to all students working in the dining room – so much so that students go out of their way to see how (Andrew) is doing!”
Talking to others hasn’t always been easy for Andrew, whose path to independence has included overcoming serious obstacles, often stemming from a pervasive speech disorder that is part of his disability.
“Our pediatrician told us once if he had been born years ago, he would have been institutionalized,” says Joan Sass, Andrew’s mom. “Andrew did not speak until he was eight years old. But he never allowed not being understood to stand in his way. He will find any way possible to get his point across.”
A native of Long Island, Andrew made the bold move to Upstate New York about a decade ago when it became clear that there was not a suitable college program for Andrew near his family home.
So a determined Andrew and his family took a shot on a program at SUNY Geneseo, co-facilitated by The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming, this area’s largest not-for-profit agency supporting individuals with intellectual and other developmental disabilities. The four-year program is called LIVES, which is an acronym for Learning Independence, Vocational, and Educational Skills.
For his fresh start, Andrew moved into an Arc-operated group home on Center Street in Geneseo. He was one of 8 individuals who called it home.
As he gained skills and confidence, Andrew ventured out on his own: first with a roommate, and then into the single unit apartment on Haley Avenue in Geneseo where he currently resides.
The LIVES Program provided Andrew with opportunities to prepare for a bright future. He audited college classes, participated in campus internships, engaged with student social clubs, and volunteered on- and off-campus.
Post-college, Andrew successfully landed a job as a Teacher’s Assistant at a local day care, where he was responsible for the care and happiness of up to 14 three- and four-year-old children.
A change in ownership at the day care resulted in Andrew looking for work through The Arc’s Hilltop Business Services program. Hilltop assisted him in landing his current career with CAS – and the rest is history.
Andrew says that he loves his job ensuring that the Letchworth Dining Hall is clean and well stocked. But he especially enjoys interacting with customers, getting to know them, and learning about their diverse lives and backgrounds.
Having come full circle from college student to mentor, the soft-spoken Andrew is humble about his status as a role model to the next generation at SUNY Geneseo.
“The best thing about my job is just spending time with the college students,” he says.