Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) provide care to people with disabilities. They are the heart and soul of everything we do to help people with disabilities feel, and be, included in the community. This week, September 13-19, we are honoring the essential work DSPs provide and continue to provide regardless of Covid-19. From moving to other locations, working overtime, adapting to new job tasks, DSPs have been extremely agile as we’ve navigated the pandemic. We are using this week to highlight the important work of DSPs at The Arc of the Quad Cities Area and showcase some of the amazing and often unsung work of these incredible professionals. Every day, this week we will be recognizing DSPs who exemplify the work that makes a difference every day. This is just a small fraction of the recognition they deserve throughout the year, especially during Covid-19. We hope you join us in saying “thanks” as we raise awareness of important and truly essential work of DSPs.
To celebrate National DSP week The Arc is highlighting 5 DSPs.
Conssondra “Connie” Dade – 7th Street Group Home
Conssondra “Connie” Dade has always had a career in a caring profession. She’s been working since she was 16 as a CNA. She had learned about The Arc online and thought that she had to have a Direct Support Professional (DSP) license prior coming to The Arc. When she learned that The Arc provides DSP training she thought she would give it a try.
Says Connie, “The training was good. They tell you what to expect and give you profiles of everyone you are caring for, so you can prepare yourself.” The training gave her the confidence to come into the role with certainty.
Connie was hired when The Arc opened a new group home at 7th Street in Moline which opened in November of 2019. In short succession, the home was affected by Covid-19 early on in the pandemic. “Connie’s experience and stamina really brought the home through the crisis. One of the individuals came back from the hospital very different and is now completely reliant on staff. Connie had the confidence to take on the changes in stride and helped staff be responsive to the individual’s increased need,” says Suzy White Residential Alternatives Director. Connie landed in the right place at the right time. Her contributions at 7th Street lifted up the whole team.
Connie used her imagination to instruct the individuals under her care on how the virus spreads and what they could do to protect themselves. During the height of the crisis, when visits and outings where extremely limited. Connie brought the community to 7th Street by bringing in each individual’s favorite food or snack and they had a picnic in the back yard.
Says Connie, “I love my job.” According to Connie, DSPs role is different from CNA work because DSPs are interacting, guiding, encouraging people with disabilities all day long. “We become their second family. We are in their home.” The Arc is fortunate that Connie made the leap to become a DSP. Says Suzy White of her reliability and experience, “She is always there AND will always be the best person to be there.”
Christina Maynard – Opportunity Center
Christina Maynard wanted to help make people feel beautiful. As a student at the College of Capri she was on track to fulfill that dream, learning the tools and techniques she needed to become a professional stylist. It wasn’t until she met a special needs child who was one of her clients while at the college, she realized she wanted to be in a caring profession that truly makes a difference in people’s lives. “I felt a very special connection with her.” She knew what
she wanted to do. Christina became a DSP and with The Arc’s onsite training felt prepared to do the job.
Every day, Christina helps people with disabilities live their best life, gain a sense of accomplishment, and feel beautiful from the inside out. Says Christina, “I always ask myself, what if this was my family? What will make the biggest difference in their life that will help them succeed?” Throughout Covid-19, Christina who typically works in The Arc’s Community Day Services programs, remained involved with people with disabilities through online programming. Because socialization is needed more than ever, Christina finds the time to create opportunities to connect and give personalized attention. Christina has also found herself supporting people with disabilities by grocery shopping, getting household supplies and finding ways to cheer up people with unexpected supplies and materials that added fun to people’s days while they had to quarantine during the initial months of the pandemic.
“We are their shoulder to cry on, their cheerleader when they need it.” Says Christina, “I’m here for them, so they can help themselves.” Christina has been with The Arc for five years and works at the Opportunity Center in Moline. For the people with disabilities whose lives Christina lifts up every day – that’s a beautiful thing.
Cathy Anderson – Program Supervisor 3rd Street
Cathy Anderson is a Program Supervisor for The Arc but has recently created a brand new role for herself. After seeing a need for someone to step up when one of the houses tested positive for COVID, Cathy filled the spot. Not only has Cathy chosen to put herself in this situation once, but she has now been in the position of supervising and providing direct care in a house with COVID three times. It is inspiring to see the bravery Cathy has shown choosing to put herself in this role.
Other changes around the homes have included adjusting the activities done with the individuals. Cathy explained what kind of activities have been keeping everyone busy saying “We have read aloud stories on zoom, live music on zoom, car rides around, and car rides to get treats like ice cream and McDonalds”. It is clear that even during a pandemic when activities are restricted that the DSPs are being creative with how to have fun.
Lastly, when Cathy was asked what her favorite part of her new position was she said “I love getting to really know the individuals. Before this I would just learn faces during day programs but now I can learn personalities and schedules”. Cathy has a contagious upbeat personality making her the perfect person to deal with a situation that could seem intimidating and scary to most. Cathy’s attitude and personality show that she is a perfect fit no matter the situation.
The Arc is proud to show our appreciation for program supervisors like Cathy who have shown their hearts through their actions, and honor the essential work they provide for people with disabilities.
Valerie DeReu – 3rd Street
Valerie DeReu is a Lead DSP who is currently working at the 3rd street home. She greeted us at the door in a bright tie dye shirt and of course a mask. Valerie’s personality almost exactly matched her shirt, bright and fun. Being bright and fun is definitely a goal of Valerie’s which is especially helpful to the individuals in her care during COVID-19. This has affected the day to day life of everyone who lives with The Arc. Valerie said “it’s been hard on everyone emotionally but it’s so rewarding for me to make them laugh, be happy, and feel comfortable”.
Activities with the individuals have had to evolve due to COVID-19 but they’re still having fun. Valerie said activities over Zoom like BINGO and calls with other homes have been big hits with the individuals. It is important for the individuals to continue to interact with each other. So staff schedule visits at other group homes for socially distanced driveway chats. Activities like this are really important mood boosters for both the people served and the DSPs. Valerie says “making their days special and being there for them when they’re feeling low,” is the best part of her job.
DSPs like Valerie are at the heart of everything we do to help people with disabilities feel, and be, included in the community.
Mianna Kirk – The Arc building
Mianna Kirk has been a DSP at The Arc for 20 years, and just passed her 20 year work anniversary. Mianna says that she just fell into the job when she was 19 with almost no knowledge of what the position was or what to expect. Once she started she fell in love. It is clear to see Mianna is meant to be a DSP when you see her in action. Her calm and relaxing personality makes her very approachable and comfortable. Her interactions with people served are thoughtful and purpose driven, just like they are her oldest, closest friends.
Mianna works in the Community Day Service program at The Arc. The day programs at The Arc have been back since the beginning of August but the numbers of individuals is far less due to safety guidelines and social distancing. While the numbers will be increased during the next few months there are currently 5 people participating in the day program. Mianna took us through their plans for today which included going to visit the Botanical Center. While the structure of the Community Day Services program has changed due to COVID-19, Mianna’s is especially abled help everyone feel a little more normal, due to her easy going personality and calm demeanor which puts everyone at ease.
We honor and celebrate DSPs like Mianna who have chosen a career that cares. Their years of dedicated service is the backbone of what we do, to help people with disabilities live their best lives.