The organization has been working in the community since 1953, providing services and opportunities for children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities including autism, mental illness, cerebral palsy, physical disabilities, epilepsy, and traumatic brain injuries.
Based in Johnstown, Lexington partners with the community to provide job opportunities for those it serves as well as opportunities for creative expression through the Paul Nigra Center for Creative Arts located in Gloversville
Its corporate culture is one of the things that sets Lexington apart.
“Lexington’s mission and core values are at the forefront of what we do—we empower people with autism and disabilities to live their best lives, every day, by partnering with their families, our employees, and our community,”
said Elizabeth Karis, The Arc Lexington’s Division Director for Human Resources. “Our employees are what make us such a great agency. Yes, we are led by exceptional leaders, but it’s the Fulton County employees who truly make Lexington an amazing place.”
There are accolades that substantiate this. Employees rated the company as one of the top workplaces in the Capital Region for the Albany Times Union’s workplace recognition, and in 2014, Lexington was named the #1 Large Workplace. In 2017, it was awarded the distinction of being one of the 24 top large workplaces in the state by The Best Companies to Work for in New York State, a program that evaluates and ranks workplaces based on employee satisfaction and engagement and workplace practices and policies.
In addition to honors like these, employees reflect their love of Lexington in the way they interact with the individuals they serve as well as their community partners.
“Because of the nature of the work supporting people, our workforce is very caring, very nurturing, and very supportive,”
said Terry Swierzowski, who is the Director of Communications for Arc Lexington and is also the Director of the Paul Nigra Center for Creative Arts. “We have some amazing employees that go above and beyond every day making a difference in people’s lives,” she said, noting that Lexington has a substantial number of long-tenured employees, many having worked at the organization for 25, 30, or even 40 years. Most of Lexington’s staff work in its day habilitation, family support, and residential programs.
To foster its nurturing environment, Lexington has open monthly forums for all employees as well as the clients it supports and their families. Here, people can discuss ideas and best practices and give feedback. A committee takes what participants voice in these forums and follows up, incorporating ideas and practices into every department’s goals and activities. “That sets our company culture,” Swierzowski said.
One way that Lexington shows how much it values its employees is through educational programs. Lexington, in a collaboration with Fulton Montgomery Community College (FMCC) and the New York State Department of Labor, developed a two-year apprenticeship program that combines job-related instruction and job training, with free tuition. “That has been life-changing for some of our staff,” Swierzowski said. “They can earn a free associate degree or a hefty amount of credits toward a bachelor’s degree,” she said, noting that these educational opportunities help employees get promoted and also serve as a recruitment and retention tool for Lexington.
Lexington also started a human services paid internship program to introduce high school students to working with people with disabilities. The program has 75 interns across three counties. A number of interns have gone on to work as support staff in the organization after their internships.
Lexington also provides educational and professional opportunities to the people it serves. For example, its Transitions program, operated in partnership with FMCC, offers a Certificate of Completion in Career and Life Studies, a program that prepares teens and young adults with autism and learning differences for college, careers, and life in general. Another example is the Canine Companion Program, run in collaboration with Jennifer DeCuyke of Paws Up. This program trains people to become certified dog handlers. “They learn dog-handling skills, obedience, and canine communication,” Swierzowski said.
By partnering with over 40 businesses and agencies in Fulton County, Lexington created its Employment Resources program, through which those whom the organization serves can find employment. For example, they prepare and deliver Meals on Wheels for Fulton County Office of the Aging.
They also work at other area businesses, including Price Chopper, McDonald’s, Glove Cities Veterinary Hospital, Century Linen, Ruby & Quiri, and the Mohawk Harvest Cooperative Market.
“The Gloversville Runnings store is very happy to partner with Lexington and the men and women they support to work in our store,” said Will Bullis, store manager at Runnings. “These workers are very capable and dedicated, and they have a job coach who collaborates with us to make sure we are all on the same page regarding job duties and expectations. We think it is a perfect relationship, and we are proud to be a community partner with Lexington.”
In addition to employment and life skills, Lexington encourages creative expression through its Paul Nigra Center for Creative Arts. This center hosts entertainment, special events, exhibitions, and classes.
The center also has its own world-famous rock band, Flame.
“They’re an internationally known rock band with a group of very, very talented musicians who happen to have disabilities,” said the center’s director, Terry Swierzowski.
The band was the brainchild of lead singer Michelle King, who suggested the idea after she won a Lexington talent contest in 2003. So far, the band has released six CDs and three singles, with a body of work that encompasses original songs written by band members as well as cover songs. The group includes vocalists, drummers, guitar players, and dancers.
Performing over 70 times a year, the band has brought its message of hope and inspiration to audiences at an impressive array of venues. These include the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, New York’s Apollo Theater, and the Parthenon in Athens, Greece. The band has been on Good Morning America and featured in People magazine. King even sang at the funeral of Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver.
In 2020, Flame was awarded the National Honor for the National Historic Recognition Program. This program honors individuals and groups that have contributed to the transformation of the field of intellectual and developmental disabilities over the past two decades.
Lexington’s success has spread to other Capital District counties. In addition to serving those in Fulton County, Lexington merged with the former Schoharie ARC and also started a program in Albany County.