Frontline Initiative

Use Your Resources!
Taking Advantage of Educational Opportunities


Cynthia Mowris is an associate teacher at the Anderson School in Staatsburg, New York

As a direct support professional with fourteen years of experience, I reached a plateau in career advancement opportunities and salary a long time ago. I loved my chosen profession, but I felt stuck in a stagnant position. As my frustration grew, I saw no way out. 

Being a young and ignorant supervisor, but still inquisitive and motivated, I regularly raved to anybody who would listen about how we needed to change the system to increase the recognition, support, and professionalism of dedicated DSPs. It angered me that our nation’s priorities could be so out of whack. I couldn’t believe that a person could make more money and have more career opportunities at a fast food joint than providing supports to people with disabilities! DSPs often have to work overtime or keep two jobs just to survive. In addition to these feelings, I was faced with staffing shortages, funding issues, and the difficult nature of my job. Work consumed my life. 

At this point, I began to investigate what resources were available. As I did, my eyes were opened and I realized things weren’t as much of a dead end as I thought. First, a good friend of mine convinced me to take a college course being offered as a pilot project at my agency, the Anderson School (a residential school for adolescents with disabilities and autism). The costs were being covered by the agency, so how could I say no? Unfortunately, I didn’t do as well in the class as I would have liked and thought that maybe it wasn’t for me. Six months later, however, one the administrators who taught at the local community college asked me if I would attend the class and act as his assistant. I eagerly accepted. This experience hooked me on education. Support and resources became my greatest asset. My agency offered several outstanding education incentives. They were just waiting for me to take advantage of them. 

My next big educational opportunity again came through the information provided by a friend. A co-worker showed me a Kennedy Fellows scholarship application and encouraged me to pursue it. The Kennedy Fellows program is a scholarship ⁄ mentoring program that supports the education and career advancement of DSPs in the private and public sector. So, I applied, and to my great surprise, I was accepted. It’s been the greatest thing that has happened to me, both personally and professionally. The best thing about the program was its mentoring component. Each of the fellows choose a primary mentor. Mine helped me expand my understanding of available resources and possibilities beyond what I expected. I learned to use resources fully, to attack issues at their source, and to learn who the specialists are in the area of need and seek their assistance. 

Although I’ve exhausted the scholarship program, the Kennedy Fellows continue to play a role in my life. Once you’re a Kennedy Fellow, you’re always affiliated with the program. Through my connection with them, I’ve become a person who is involved in happenings and issues concerning direct support on a regional, national, and international level. I’ve had the opportunity to speak at, plan, and coordinate conferences, to act as a DSP representative of the National Alliance, to take part in a partnership with a self-advocate for mutual growth and development, to represent the Kennedy Fellows ⁄Anderson School as a US delegate at an international conference abroad on residential child care, and more. I’ve received several certifications, completed one degree, and am currently pursuing another. Because of the opportunities and support from the Anderson School and the Kennedy Fellows program, I now have an opportunity to study abroad this fall and the confidence to complete anything I apply myself to.