NEW LEXINGTON — Sept. 13-19 is Direct Support Professional (DSP) Recognition Week across the country, and Perry County is fortunate to have many individuals who have chosen this challenging field of work.
A DSP is someone who works directly with people who have intellectual or developmental disabilities. In the past, DSPs were primarily caregivers who performed tasks for their clients. Over time this role has changed so that DSPs now assist their clients to do tasks for themselves. To quote a manual from New York, “DSPs aim to assist people in realizing their full potential. They help people become integrated and engaged in their community.”
Five organizations in Perry County that depend upon dedicated DSPs to assist their clients include Mt. Aloysius, PerCo, Inc., Residential, Inc., The Sech-kar Co., and Perry County Transit. In addition to those five major providers, Perry County Board of Developmental Disabilities also has dedicated and committed providers working in Perry County as well as those who provide supports throughout multiple counties.
Mamie Brown is the Assistant Director at Residential, Inc. where 50 DSPs are employed. With full time residents, DSPs are needed around the clock at Residential, Inc., and Brown has high praise for them.
“They are the pulse of our agency because they do all the direct care,” described Brown.
Jay Barnhart, Executive Director at PerCo, Inc., echoes a similar response when talking about the DSPs working with PerCo, Inc. clients.
“We can’t do what we do without them,” states Barnhart. PerCo, Inc. has 10 DSPs on staff. He further described that DSPs must be trained and certified for their positions, but most of all they must “truly want” to care for others.
With COVID-19 changing so many aspects of daily life, Barnhart was forced to layoff staff earlier this year. In a demonstration of their dedication, every DSP returned to the job after the layoffs.
“DSPs are the perfect example of essential workers because they are still doing their job despite COVID-19,” praised Barnhart.
One of the PerCo, Inc. DSPs is Cindy Gillen. She started at PerCo, Inc. in February of this year, but her career as a DSP began much earlier. Cindy started at Mt. Aloysius when she was 15 years old and worked there for 27 years. Ten years at Perry County Board of DD followed before taking a DSP position at PerCo. Inc.
Gillen’s day starts at 7:45 when she reports to PerCo in time for the clients to board the van for the ride to their house on State Street. From assisting with meals to working on life skills to assembling piece work for Cooper Standard, the most important thing she may do is “just listen” to her clients.
“I treat them like they should be treated,” says the longtime DSP. The people she assists become more like family than clients added Gillen. The most rewarding part of her 40 hour work week is making her clients smile.
“I’m their DSP and they have become my friends,” says Gillen.
A relative newcomer compared to Cindy Gillen is Stacey Bell who is in her fifth year as a DSP at Mt. Aloysius. Stacey has worked at a bank and driven school buses among other jobs she had, but says her current DSP position is the most rewarding job she has ever had.
“It was a total accident that I got into this field, but I’m glad I did,” stated Bell. Helping people who truly need help is what makes being a DSP so rewarding, according to Bell.
“It’s the least pay and longest hours job I’ve ever had, and it’s also my favorite,” Bell laughed.
For every DSP in Perry County and across this nation, this is your week to be recognized for your commitment to those who need you the most. Your efforts do not go unnoticed throughout Perry County as attested by the high praise from Ron Spung, Service and Support Administrator Director at the Perry County Board of Developmental Disabilities.
“Our Perry County providers and the DSPs who provide services to the people with disabilities are amazing. Even through the COVID changes and restrictions placed upon them this year, the services and care for the people they support have remained in place and appropriate for the situation. It is encouraging to witness such talent, commitment, and ability to adapt with such short notice,” Spung stated.
If you know a person who works as a DSP, take time this week to thank them for the dedication and effort they put forth to make individuals with disabilities a positive force in the Perry County community.