WATERTOWN — In honor of October being National Disability Employment Awareness Month, the New York State Industries for the Disabled, Inc. recognized 51 workers with disabilities throughout New York state through its annual Joslin Outstanding Performer Award program for overcoming individual challenges to experience meaningful employment.
Among those nominated across the state of New York was Noah Prior Jr. of Watertown.
The 42-year-old works at Production Unlimited, a vocational training program offered by the Jefferson Rehabilitation Center (JRC) that caters to the needs of individuals with disabilities. The program provides opportunities for people to achieve their potential through increased independence and preparation to work in the community.
Production Unlimited manufactures a variety of ring binders and the program includes bench assembling and packaging services. The best part of the job, for Noah, is putting the rings in the binders and being what he calls the “ultimate ringer.”
In an effort to help employees as much as possible, the JRC picks Noah up each morning to take him to work.
“He gets picked up around 7 a.m. and gets home around 20 after four, so he gets up around 5:30 a.m. each day,” said Terry Prior, Noah’s mother. “It’s a long day but he loves it, JRC’s bus service — it’s unbelievable.”
Howard Ganter, CEO of the ARC of Jefferson-St. Lawrence, which oversees Production Unlimited, was the one who nominated Noah for the award. Though he ultimately was not one of the two chosen to receive the final William B Joslin Outstanding Performance Award in Albany on Oct. 22, Mrs. Prior said Noah was very excited to have been nominated.
Though they don’t know the technical term for his disability, his parents said genetic testing done in the 1980s showed that Noah is missing half of his 18th chromosome, which controls things like learning, mobility, hearing, and speech.
“In a lot of ways, he’s 42, but in some ways he’s like 14 or 16,” Mr. Prior said. “In other ways he’s older.”
According to some questions Noah was asked to answer following his nomination, the only other job he would want besides the one he already has would be a caddy for Tiger Woods. Noah’s father, Noah Prior Sr., said his son is a huge golf fanatic and watches it all the time.
When presented with the question of how the nomination made him feel, Noah wrote: “Being nominated for this award makes me feel happy!”
NYSID’s Joslin Awards Program has recognized more than 820 Outstanding Performers since 2004. Twenty-three have gone on to receive the William B. Joslin Outstanding Performance Award.
“It’s just a great thing that they did that, giving people the recognition they might not get it otherwise,” Mrs. Prior said. “It’s very much needed in this world for people like Noah to be recognized.”
According to Maureen O’Brien, head of NYSID, individuals with disabilities in New York State have an unemployment rate of 65 percent, are 2.5 times more likely to live in poverty, and are 2.8 percent more likely to be the victims of crime.
“One of the great things NYSID does is take contracts for these people and get them to work,” she said. “Meeting new people, they often ask what do you do for a living, which can be a hard question for those with disabilities. I haven’t heard of anyone working on a NYSID contract not liking their jobs, when they find the right fit they’re happy to stay on the job and stay longer, helping to build a committed workforce.”
Noah previously worked at a recycling center on Railroad Street, which ended up closing, and did community service work at the community center, participating in programs like Meals on Wheels, all through the JRC.
He started going to JRC at a year old, and has been associated with them for the past 41 years.
“As parents, without that we’re not sure what we would have done,” Mrs. Prior said. “One would have had to stay home with him, and he would have been bored because he wouldn’t have been able to go out into the community and get a regular job.”
Noah has been employed for 21 years on NYSID contracts. While his parents may be a bit biased, they said he loves to go to work and can do every job there.
“They love him there, he’s very dedicated,” Mrs. Prior said.