Robert Debell did not have the easiest childhood.
Born three months premature and weighing only a pound and a half, Debell began his fight for survival. After spending his first seven months of life in the hospital, 10 years of traveling back and forth between his Port Chester home and Boston Children’s Hospital and the first 15 years of life breathing through a tracheostomy tube, Robert’s breathing conditions stabilized.
Fifteen years after Debell was born, the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law. Thursday was the 22nd anniversary of the signing. The ADA prohibits discrimination based on disability in certain situations, comparable to the way the Civil Rights act prohibits discrimination based on race, religion and natural origin.
The YAI Network is an organization that serves people with disabilities and their families. YAI bridges the gaps between the Disabilities Act, those with physical or mental disabilities and potential employers.
Debell first crossed paths with YAI over 17 years ago when they got him a job at the Hilton Westchester. All parties involved, including Robert, were uncertain with how things would go. Simply put, Robert thrived.
In 17 years of employment, Debell has only taken one sick day and it was during his first few months on the job.
“Robert will be there 18 year come this November,” said Robert’s mother Linda Debell. “The only sick day he has taken was during that first November. Robert’s lung problems landed him in the ICU for a few weeks over Christmas two years ago. Still, he wouldn’t take a sick day. He used two weeks vacation time instead.”
“The Disabilities Act was very important,” said Robert’s father Austin Debell. “YAI has to be mentioned as well. They are the ones that got him the position at the Hilton; they support and meet with him on a monthly and weekly basis and without them I don’t know where Robert would be. I can’t thank YAI enough.”
Not only does Robert show up to work on every day he is scheduled, he is also the go-to man when someone is needed last minute.
“My parents always told me that no matter what, my job was to try to do it the best I can,” said Debell. “I work mornings and night, my schedule is kind of crazy. When they call me to come in I always do. Sometimes my wife says, ‘Do you really have to go?’ and I tell her if she wants nice things I’ve got to go to work.”
Debell married seven years ago and lives with his wife in Larchmont.
“When I met my wife her mother didn’t really approve of me,” said Debell. “But she saw that I work, I’m independent and I pay all my bills on time so she became OK with me.”
“Robert is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever met,” said Judy Malloy of the Hilton Westchester’s Human Resources Department. “Not only does he show up but is motivated and has a really positive, can-do attitude. I truly believe that because of the challenges he faced growing up that he became a fighter and is just so proud to fit in and be appreciated.”
YAI has job coaches that meet with their clients twice monthly to check in and support them in any way they can.
“Robert is so dedicated and hard-working that he doesn’t want to take time out during work to meet with his job coach,” said Susan Berlin of the YAI Network. “We meet with Robert twice a month off site but he is really just so capable and wonderful. Our clients can call us any time, their employers can call us any time but Robert is really a special example and we have never received any kind of emergency call or anything like that.”