Frontline Initiative

Sharing Knowledge:
My Reward as a Direct Support Professional


Tonia Brock is a DSP at the Shore Training Center in Bellwood, Illinois

I started working with people with developmental and physical disabilities in the summer of 1994. A college friend had introduced me to the direct support profession by allowing me to volunteer at a Community Integrated Living Arrangement (CILA) home with Options, Inc. in Chicago. At the time, I was a senior in college, pursuing a double major in psychology and social science.

After volunteering for about three months, I started as a parttime community support worker with Options, Inc. and then became a live-in at a CILA. I worked ten hours per week helping the full-time staff take the women living there out to movies, grocery stores, churches, and restaurants. I found it rewarding to give of my time, knowledge, and energy.

What I found most rewarding was when I saw the women with whom I worked gain more independence in their daily lives, financially, socially, and in the community. Many things that I’d taken for granted, such as grocery shopping, buying a blouse, or eating at a restaurant with friends, were activities that were greatly enjoyed and appreciated by these women. Their smiles were evidence of their happiness, and these were well worth my effort.

I now work in at the Shore Training Center, a sheltered workshop and school for people with disabilities, in Morton Grove, Illinois. My responsibilities are a bit different – more focused on jobs-related social skills, hygiene, and monetary familiarity. I run curricula ranging from arts and crafts to storytelling. Each day I enjoy finding ways to bring out the best from a variety of personalities. I love the nine people I serve. I enjoy that I have an effect on their lives as I strive to give them every opportunity to progress and live more independently. Like a teacher, I’m trying to acquaint them with new ideas and concepts.

At times, I become frustrated when there are more behavioral challenges or people seem bored and uninterested in working. Yet, I know I’ll have another opportunity tomorrow to try to create new paths to success. I work where I do because I enjoy learning, teaching and helping others. It’s a great joy when I work with a person toward a goal and he or she learns something new. I like sharing my knowledge and feel good when they’re able to learn and apply it.

Occasionally, when I took them out to stores, or while walking down the street, I noticed that people were watching us. At times, this could be annoying, but many times I sensed that the women enjoyed being the center of attention. I took pride in this and in the fact that I’d provided an understanding and supportive environment for them within the community as well as at their home. I worked with this residential program for four and a half years, and it functioned smoothly because each member lent a positive, team-oriented attitude to this environment. I could tell that we’d made a difference for these women.