His work there earned him recognition as one of ARC of Rockland's Dr. Martin Luther King Award winners along with Alan Albert of Pearl River at a ceremony Thursday Morning at the ARC Headquarters in Congers, but he took time out to express his gratitude to the people he works with and those he serves.
"Not a day goes by that I don’t learn something from one of my co-workers that makes me better at my job," Messer said. "My biggest thanks goes to the individuals I have the pleasure to work with. People say to me, you do so much for them. Trust me, it is nothing compared to what these men and women have given me."
"Dr. King's road from promise to fulfillment requires presence," said ARC Residence Manager Miraline Rivera, who nominated Messer. "Alex understands how much the people who live in the home and his colleagues depend on him. His uncommon skills and character make him a valued member of our team and an asset to the field of human services. In my judgement, Mr. Messer is exactly the kind of individual Dr. King would want to receive this award."
ARC of Rockland serves more than 1,200 people of all ages with intellectual and other developmental disabilities. Albert is one of those people. He lives in an ARC home. But he is also a volunteer with the organization and a speaker on the subject of self-advocacy.
"Determination, dedication and energy are attributes associated with Dr. King," said ARC Director of Compliance Operations Janet Begley, who nominated Albert. "I have known Alan for 256 years. Long beore he graduated from an official self-advocacy course, he knew what it meant to speak up for himself and for his friends. and associates with and without developmental disabilities. Alan is a leader worthy of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Award."
"When I heard about being chosen for this, I said, why me?" Albert said. "I work a lot of time with everybody here as a volunteer. I have worked over 24 years in one company. I volunteer my time with everybody here in the agency. I work very hard in the self-advocacy conferences. I spoke to 800 to 900 people at the conference. It was the first time I spoke to a lot of people Like I’m doing right now.
"Dr. King gave us a chance to do what others did. Like I’m doing speaking to you people."
Rockland County Executive Ed Day spoke about Albert, who joins others from ARC in marching with Day in the annual Rockland County St. Patrick's Day Parade in Pearl River.
"Congratulations to Al and Alex," Day said. 'Al and I share something personal because every St. Patrick's Day, we march together and he gets more cheers than I get."
Many of Thursday's speakers pointed to King's advocacy of equal rights for all as the connection for his message with a place like ARC of Rockland.
"Dr. King understood the power of many voices combined in support of inalienable rights for citizens of this country, whatever the color of our skin, whatever the range of our abilities, whatever our economic value," said ARC Executive Director Carmine Marchionda. "Dr. King made it clear they were all worthy in the eyes of law. Is it true for people with disabilities? Absolutely so. Equality in the eyes of the law is critical, It’s vital. It's important, particularly when it comes to education, employment (and) housing. But the way we see ourselves, the way we are perceived in the eyes of our neighbors is just as significant as the perception of law. Dr. King new full well that dignity and confidence begins and ends with an individual.
"How one uses that confidence, the ability to fill others with confidence, these are attributes of true leaders. Dr. King certainly was a leader. So, too, are our award recipients today. Alex Messer and Alan Albert consistently give of themselves to others. More importantly than what they give, they encourage others toward higher aspirations and goals,t he greater good."
"I'm very proud to be here in support of ARC and the notions and concepts Dr. Martin Luther King brought forward," Day said.
Day also spoke about his ongoing connection to ARC, taking a moment to explain that he had to resign from the ARC Foundation Board because of a conflict with his new position as County Executive.
"The only reason why I had to do that is by virtue of the fact that the people of this county decided to make me County Executive," Day said. "I cannot be in that position and be county executive. I want to be very clear. ARC is my family. I will be with you forever. I will support you beyond all belief as I always have done.
"There is another rumor I’m going to dispel. Somehow there is a rumor going on that I will be marching someplace else this year for St. Patrick’s day. Let me assure you now, the quickest way to get hated in politics is to change. I’m not changing. I will be standing with ARC on St. Patrick’s Day, marching up the Avenue."