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The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming
March 8, 2012

The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming

For workers at Hilltop Industries, this will be a year of many happy returns. 

The private, not-for-profit vocational services offshoot of The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming has formally introduced Hilltop Bottle and Can Return, a redemption center located at 5 East State Street in Mount Morris. According to Kellie Kennedy, Hilltop program director, the new venture is part of Hilltop's ongoing effort to offer eco-friendly services while providing gainful employment opportunities for people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities.

"Of course, the primary intention is to create meaningful jobs for people with disabilities in our community," Kennedy says. "Entering the bottle and can redemption business is also in line with Hilltop's commitment to recycling and the environment."

Since January, monthly returns have more than doubled, with many returning customers offering positive feedback.

Kennedy points out that Hilltop has also migrated to environmentally friendly cleaning products for its Janitorial Services contracts, and in 2009 opened Finders Keepers, a thrift store on Main Street, Mount Morris that specializes in repurposing quality used goods that might otherwise become landfill fodder. NYSID supports the New York State initiative to go green in its purchasing practices.

It's fitting, then, that Hilltop Bottle and Can Return isn't only a recycling business, it's also a recycled business. Until recently, Ivan Davis, owner of Grizzly's Custom Cutting, had operated a bottle and can redemption center at 30 East State Street, almost directly across the street from Hilltop's sheltered workshop and administrative headquarters at 3 East State Street. When Davis decided to exit the business, Kennedy and her team worked with their neighbor to absorb it and lay the foundation for Hilltop Bottle and Can Return.

Next, Hilltop maintenance crews took to work, transforming a modest free-standing structure located between the workshop and Transportation Center on the Hilltop campus into the bottle and can redemption center. Their motivation: to watch those nickels add up.

In New York State, redemption centers such as Hilltop Bottle and Can Return receive a handling fee of 8.5 cents for every bottle or can that they reroute to its source. So, after returning the nickel deposit to the customer, they bank 3.5 cents per bottle. For Hilltop, more bottles and cans would equal more opportunity for people with disabilities, Kennedy reasoned.

At anticipated volumes, Kennedy expects that the redemption center will be able to employ three to four people with disabilities, supported by one "Job Coach," a direct support professional paid by Hilltop Industries to oversee the center.

Through its work and rehabilitation programs, Hilltop Industries serves about 350 individuals with disabilities annually, including 11 janitorial contracts through NYSID. Hilltop Industries has a 20-year history with NYSID and currently employs 37 workers on NYSID contracts.

Workers for Hilltop Bottle and Can Return were selected through an application and interview process overseen by Judy Welch, Hilltop coordinator of vocational and day services. Welch, who also oversaw the training of new redemption center employees, describes the selection process as 'challenging but rewarding.'?

"There was a ton of interest and enthusiasm about the new jobs at Hilltop Bottle and Can Return," Welch explains. "We had many candidates, but these are highly specialized jobs. To be successful, workers need a strong sense of organization, math skills, and as a focus on customer service."

Rose Nehrbass has been employed by Hilltop Industries for one month and previously worked as a custodian for 18 years at Geneseo Central School. Her new job at the redemption center involves collecting returnables from customers, and sorting them by brand. Hilltop accepts all brands of New York State returnables. Rose's accuracy is critical because Hilltop has agreements with three different routers, and each accepts only certain brands of recyclables.

"The job isn't easy, but I like the variety of tasks it offers," Rose says. "I get to use counting and sorting skills and especially like using the cash register. I look forward to meeting and helping our customers."