James Denson, a paralegal with disabilities who helps disabled clients with their Social Security benefit appeals, has been acknowledged for his hard work. And he is $3,000 richer as a result.
On Tuesday, the Hempstead resident won the second annual National Disabilities Employment Awareness Month Award, presented by the Corporate Source in Garden City.
“I didn’t expect to win the award, and initially it came as a shock,” he said in an interview after the awards ceremony in the Hempstead office of his employer, Nassau Suffolk Law Services, a nonprofit that offers free services to low-income and disabled residents dealing with civil legal matters, such as foreclosures or Social Security disability benefit denials.
But other people weren’t surprised Denson beat out 10 other nominees for the award.
Jeffrey Seigel, executive director of Nassau Suffolk Law Services, where Denson has worked for 27 years, praised his devotion to the work he does with clients, some of whom have psychiatric impairments.
“They are not the always the easiest to work with,” Seigel said. “He has the patience of a saint.”
While the nonprofit has a number of disability attorneys on staff, Denson, a paralegal, stands out because of his vast knowledge of Social Security regulations, Seigel said. He added that he would choose Denson to represent him if he had a Social Security case.
“”We have wonderful disability attorneys, but I’ll take Jim,” he said.
Michael Kramer, chief executive of the Corporate Source, an outsource-services company that employs many people with disabilities, praised Denson’s work with Nassau Suffolk Law, advocating for the disabled. And he said Denson’s willingness to take a bus, train and taxi to travel from Hempstead to court in Central Islip shows his devotion, a factor that helped him beat out other nominees. Denson’s employer nominated him.
“He is someone with a disability who is really out and assisting people,” Kramer said.
The Claire Friedlander Family Foundation in Huntington provided the grant that made the award possible.
Denson, who has cerebral palsy and overcame stuttering, said he has come a long way from the days after college in 1985, when he would go on job interviews and be accused of lying about his credentials because he stuttered so much. He graduated with a degree in political science, and in 1988 got his paralegal certificate. .
When he interviewed for the paralegal job 27 years ago, Denson, 57, said the attorney interviewing him helped put him at ease, and that curtailed his stuttering.
“Her manner was so relaxed that it helped me to relax,” he said.
What does he plan to do with the $3,000?
“I am in the process of purchasing a vehicle, so this will be very helpful toward a down payment,” he said.