Jay Lazarony may not know every child he’s encountered by name, but he sure knows their struggles and accomplishments over his last two-plus decades in Genesee County.
Lazarony has worked with thousands of kids to introduce them to vocational opportunities and lessons about required job skills, from time management to good work ethics. He’s had a passion for offering those opportunities since beginning his career journey at Arc of Genesee County and then embracing his roles at Genesee County Job Development Bureau, Adolescent Vocational Exploration Program, Genesee County Youth Bureau, and more recently, at GLOW Workforce Development Board.
”Really, who I'm proud of are the youth that I've worked with and assisted over the years, and helping them to reach a certain level of success. Because they're an open book. They come in and you give them an opportunity. You can fill that book up with enthusiasm, with knowledge about careers and how to go after careers rather than, you know, this is what I'm always going to be,” the GLOW Work Force Development Board executive director said to The Batavian. “And you can give them all the career possibilities and all the opportunities. It’s nice to know you had some effect on them. There have been some great success stories.”
There was the shy 15-year-old who ended up becoming a nurse practitioner and the student who didn’t even think he was going to make it through the program and went on to obtain an education at Rochester Institute of Technology.
Those 25 years plus his own hands-on job development working in the family business has not only equipped Lazarony with notable skills but now also with recognition as a 2021 Genesee County Chamber of Commerce Geneseean of the Year Award.
Karyn Winters, director of Genesee County's Business Education Alliance, nominated him for being an "exemplary professional and volunteer," and embodying what's great about Genesee County," she said. He founded GLOW With Your Hands in 2019 and has been a "selfless, kind, motivating and fearless leader," she said.
"While his career alone warrants recognition, what truly makes Jay an admirable Geneseean is his infectious enthusiasm to mentor local youth," Winters said in her nomination.
Do a quick rewind to 1975, when Lazarony graduated from Batavia High School. A few years later his family bought a failing but well-known restaurant franchise — KFC — in 1978, and he worked there until 1990. Lazarony watched his father Horace put in long hours and weekends to make it a success.
“When we took over, it was really rundown, one of the worst in the nation. I watched my dad open and close every day, I watched his enthusiasm for what he did,” Lazarony said, noting one big lesson he learned from that.
“Now, I didn't love the restaurant business, and many people know that. But what I learned from him is that … find the thing that you love the most and make it your career. And that's what I got from him. And you know, it's funny, because in 2005 or 2004, he was a 73-year-old man at that time, and he was working probably 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, only about five or six hours on Saturday or five or six hours on Sunday. And he did that for 28 years that way. And we watched that,” Lazarony said. “Whether you like that business or not, you know that in order to be successful, sometimes you put in the hard work. So I think I learned that from being in that family business.”
He also imparts other nuggets from those restaurant days: be kind to your employees and co-workers, understand that they’ve got busy schedules with other activities, so cut them some slack when needed, and believe that kids can learn good work ethics with a mix of patience and tough love.
A huge music fan, Lazarony said only two things kept him from a singing career: he couldn’t carry a tune or play guitar. He has enjoyed going to concerts and music events, including one at which Neil Young played “beautiful music for hours and hours.”
Jenn, one of Lazarony’s program participants who saw him as a father figure, asked him to walk her down the aisle for her wedding. He proudly accepted. The experience was “one of the thrills of my lifetime,” he said. She thanked him with a hand-drawn sketch of Young on an old magazine cover. It’s framed and hanging on Lazarony’s office wall.
“It will be here until I retire,” he said.
As for retirement, he will face that “when I get tired,” he said, which certainly isn’t any time soon. He’s having “way too much fun” right now and focused on getting a skilled workforce in Genesee, Livingston, Orleans, and Wyoming counties.
“And to inspire people to work. We have a gap, and that’s why we have GLOW Work With Your Hands, to provide a skilled worker, and a job for every job-seeker,” he said. “COVID really hurt us. We’re recovering … we’re in pretty good shape.”
His professional bucket list is to continue that mission and to use grant funding judiciously to assist those people who want to work with related “wrap around” services, such as paying for night nurse or welding certification costs, durable boots for the newly hired manufacturing worker, a five-hour safety course fee for a truck driver or mileage money to get to and from a job.
“There’s plenty of need,” he said.
He remembers his lack of enthusiasm when his family moved from Liverpool to Batavia in his senior year of high school. He wanted nothing to do with it, he said. Funny how time changes things.
“I've fallen in love with Genesee County, especially the city of Batavia; I think it's a great place to raise a family,” the 63-year-old said. “I think it's a wonderful place to just live, shop, and work. And I don't ever want to leave now.”
He and wife Donna will celebrate their 39th wedding anniversary this summer and he is an unapologetic doting grandpa to his seven grandchildren.
The best part of a weekend is when a grandchild wants to come over for the day, he said. That, supporting the Buffalo Bills, reading, gardening and Netflix rounds out his leisure activities.
As for the award, “I was shocked,” he said.
“And then extremely excited,” he said, mentioning his GLOW staff of 45. “I’m not here without any of them.”
Top photo: Jay Lazarony shows one of his favorite pieces of art, a handmade sketch by Jenn, a former program participant. Photo by Howard Owens.
This is the second of four articles highlighting the 50th Annual Chamber of Commerce Awards. The annual dinner is Saturday at Batavia Downs, with hor d’oeuvres at 5 p.m. and dinner at 7 p.m. For more information about the dinner, call the Genesee County Chamber at (585) 343-7440.