All across the country, direct support professionals are working to make vital contributions within our communities. Through their dedication, creativity, advocacy and boundless energy, DSPs ensure that people with disabilities have the necessary supports to live, work and enjoy life more independently.

National DSP Recognition Week celebrates the essential contributions of more than 3.6 million direct support professionals, direct care workers, personal care assistants, personal attendants, in-home support workers and paraprofessionals throughout America who provide a high level of quality support to individuals with disabilities.

These unsung heroes frequently remain in the background – often the hands, feet and driving force of the direct service industry. They work in various settings, in people’s homes, residential facilities, day-training centers and in the community. They assist people with personal and medical care, learning daily living skills, participating in community activities, pursuing employment, developing relationships and more.

“Simply put, our DSPs are the backbone of our services,” said Jenna Craig, LifeSkills vocational and community access manager. “They fulfill the most essential roles for our clients.”

The Kentucky Association of Private Providers hosts a conference each year that culminates with an annual DSP celebration award ceremony. This year, LifeSkills has nominated Kim Parks as a candidate for recognition.

“Kim works tirelessly to make sure our clients’ needs are met,” Craig said. “She is prompt and efficient and advocates constantly for our individuals. She is an excellent role model and a true leader that is the sole source of stability in the lives of many of our clients. We are extremely proud to have Kim on our team.”

Tracy Butterfield, supports for community living director, believes DSPs are the heartbeat of LifeSkills.

“They mean so much to us. They walk beside and partner with our participants through all phases of their lives. They wear many hats … they mentor, coach, support, care for, teach, encourage and advocate for individuals. They help people lead meaningful lives in the community and often make valuable connections that can result in the fulfillment of their dreams.”

Each person is unique and no two cases are the same.

“We have individuals that require vastly different levels of support,” Butterfield said. “Ranging from someone who needs total assistance – including personal hygiene care – to someone who is very independent and just needs a person beside them to guide and encourage them.”

Brad Schneider, vice president of LifeSkills Developmental Services Division, said, “DSPs do the most important work and are critical to our vision/mission. They are skilled, dedicated and extremely passionate. Unfortunately, because DSP work is frequently of a private nature, they often go unrecognized. We don’t tell them nearly enough just how much we value and appreciate them for their ongoing and selfless contributions on behalf of the people we support.”

LifeSkills has direct support professionals working in many capacities. Some of these are:

• Community Living Associates – Employees who provide residential supports to people living in apartments and homes owned by LifeSkills.

• Adult Foster Care Providers – Independent contractors who open up their own homes to people with disabilities. Supports and assistance focus on the whole person’s needs. Learning new skills and participating in normal home and community life are key components.

• Respite Providers – Independent contractors who provide a temporary break for the person and his or her family or adult foster care provider. Respite is offered on an hourly, overnight and weekend basis. It can be provided in the person’s home or in the home of an approved respite provider.

• Vocational Associates – Employees who provide vocational skills training to individuals attending LifeSkills Industries/Adult Day Training Center.

• Supported Employment Specialists – Employees who assist people with finding and maintaining community employment.

• PASRR Specialized Service Associates – Employees who assist people with developmental disabilities living in nursing facilities.

Job seekers often overlook employment opportunities as DSPs thinking they may not be qualified, or that it takes a “special kind of person.” However, most positions only require a high school diploma and a willingness to learn and work with people. LifeSkills’ DSPs come from all walks of life – some right out of school, others as a second career after retirement from another profession. What they all have in common is the opportunity to work with amazing people, do the most important work and go home each day knowing they’ve made a big difference in someone’s life.

Anyone interested in viewing available DSP positions with LifeSkills should visit www.lifeskills.com. You may fill out an online application, or contact Donna Jewell, LifeSkills talent coordinator, at 901-5000, ext. 1196, for more information about job opportunities.

– Maureen Mahaney coordinates public information for LifeSkills Inc., a nonprofit behavioral health care corporation that plans for and serves the people of southcentral Kentucky in three main areas: mental health, addiction and intellectual disabilities. Her column appears monthly.

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