Frontline Initiative DSP Recognition

Rosie Moriarity:
ANCOR's 2013 DSP of the Year


Tom King is a free-lance writer, living in Knoxville, TN

When you ask Rosie Moriarty to describe herself, she does not hesitate: “I’m short and I’m sassy.” Well, from now on she will have to add a few more words to her answer — “I’m short and sassy and I’m the 2013 National Direct Support Professional (DSP) of the Year.”

Indeed she is. Rosie was selected for this prestigious national honor by ANCOR’s Selection Committee as part of its annual DSP Recognition Contest.

“I was stunned, completely speechless when I was told,” Rosie said. “To be speechless for me doesn’t happen very often. It is humbling and you can’t imagine how special this is to me.”

Rosie, a DSP for 25 years who also is an LPN for Living Well Disability Services (formerly Dakota Communities) in Eagan, MN, is a Personal Advocate DSP. She supports Melanie Kett, who for 30 years has had Multiple Sclerosis (MS). In 2005 the MS became more serious and “Miss Mel” — as Rosie calls her— needed someone to move into her home in Mendota Heights for 24/7/365 supports. These two had been friends for 9 1⁄2 years before Melanie’s condition worsened, and when Rosie was asked if she would move in and live with Melanie and support her, she never hesitated. Not for one second.

“We are companions, we are dear friends and sometimes we’re even sisters,” Rosie said about their relationship. “Maybe soul mates. By the way, Mel is short and sassy too.”

“Yep, we’re both very short and very sassy.... and we proudly do that,” Mel said. “And Rosie is wonderful — just wonderful.”

Erica Cournoyer, a Program Coordinator, is Rosie’s direct supervisor at Living Well and understands and knows their relationship perhaps better than anyone. “They are girlfriends. They laugh. They cry. They inspire one another,” Erica said. “Rosie lives to love the people who are around her. She is a strong woman. She surrounds herself with people and she embraces them as friends. She is very, very compassionate and has a wonderful spirit about her. I’ve always said that Rosie plans things and does things to live for the day.”

This close relationship probably saved Melanie’s life. “It was on September 3, 2008. I got up at 5:30 a.m. and I felt like something was just not right, that something was wrong with Mel,” Rosie recalls. “I went into her bedroom and she was just lying there and it looked like she’d had a stroke. She was unresponsive with tremors and had facial drooping and she was turning blue. Her fists were balled up in an abnormal position. I called 911 as fast as I could.” 

Melanie had a massive seizure, her first ever, and in the emergency room she was placed on a ventilator and survived. “I just sensed that something was wrong. I could feel it and I’m that much in tune with her. I have the same bond with her that I had with my son when he lived at home. Yes, I probably did save her life that morning.”

Rosie has a 37-year-old son, Miguel, with an intellectual disability who now lives in St. Cloud, MN, in supported housing. Everyone calls him “Nooners.” For many years she was his DSP at their home.

Melanie has two adult children she stays in contact with – a son in Minnesota and a daughter who lives in Israel with her husband. “We Skype a lot,” Rosie says. “There’s not much we don’t do.”

In addition to being Melanie’s support person, Rosie also is an LPN for Living Well. checking meds and making sure everything is up to date and correct in the ordering and the distribution of the meds.

The MS ended Melanie’s budding musical career. She was a professional viola player and played in both the St. Paul Symphony and the Hawaiian National Symphony. The MS took from her the muscles needed to play the viola.

Rosie enjoys telling anyone about her buddy Mel. “She’s vibrant and energetic and has a smile that’s out of this world. She loves food and I love to cook so that’s a perfect match. She loves babies and animals. Mel is very smart. I’d call her an intellectual. She loves music and the theater and is a real people person. We’re starting a Red Hat Club and inviting people with and without disabilities. Mel works as a Wal-Mart greeter, too.”

Antonia Gillen, who nominated Rosie for this award, is Director of Community Life at Living Well. “Rosie is the kind of person who if you bottled up her energy and sold it, you’d be a millionaire,”she said. “I have never met anyone anywhere who is so positive and full of sunshine. Rosie keeps the spark of life going for Mel through trips and friends and activities and she can maintain that level of energy for 24 hours every day. She is simply amazing.”

This is not Rosie’s first honor. In 2009 she won the ARRM Cares Award as the DSP of the Year for Minnesota. In 1989 she received the Exceptional Parent award from the Minnesota Council of Exceptional Children.

The Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities was formed 25 years ago and created a groundbreaking and innovative training program called “Partners in Policy Making.” Its mission was to teach self-advocates, parents and DSPs the power of advocacy to change the way people with disabilities are supported, viewed by the public, taught, live and work. She was selected to be in that very first class and has been a fierce advocate ever since.

“Rosie and Mel continue to use the tools from this training as they meet with their state representatives several times a year to lobby for budget changes and the preservation of services, and together they participate in forums to advocate for the rights of people with disabilities,” Antonia said. She described them as “fixtures” at the state capitol advocating for people with disabilities.

“This is where the sassy part of me comes in handy,” Rosie said. “Miss Mel as well.”

These ladies love to take vacations together, but Rosie has to drive because Melanie can’t fly now. They went on a family vacation to Washington, D.C. a few years back and something difficult yet interesting happened that illustrates Rosie’s grit and determination. Let’s let her tell the story:

“We got to the hotel and I plugged in Mel’s motorized chair so it would charge up. Then we turned the lights out and went to bed. The next morning after we were out seeing the sights the chair stopped working. I pushed her all over D.C. in that chair so we wouldn’t miss anything. It was about 500 pounds of pushing. I was exhausted. That night I discovered that the plug I used was tied to the light switch and when I turned the lights off the plug didn’t work. Never again will I make that mistake.”

In nominating Rosie, here are some of Antonia’s key remarks —

  • “Finding that perfect balance of friend and advocate is a gift that Rosie has been able to achieve with Melanie as her live-in provider.”
  • “She has encouraged Melanie to maintain physical, mental, and spiritual opportunities that are essential to a whole life for her, regardless of her disability.”
  • “Rosie is not only a leader in the field of Direct Support, but an innovator in how to provide services to people while maintaining their life in their own home and community. She has married her passions for advocacy and her current profession as a nurse to not only maintain Melanie’s presence in her own home, but to proactively address the health issues that are caused by Multiple Sclerosis.”
  • “And while you can point to all of the rules and regulations that prove how proficient Rosie is in her position as a Direct Support Professional, you only have to look at the smile on Melanie’s face over coffee with their friends on the weekend to understand exactly what they both mean to each other.”

If you visit their home, you would be struck by what you find. Since the 6th grade Rosie has collected elephants of all kinds from as far away as Thailand, New Zealand and Ireland. “I love elephants. They’re caring and gentle and their families come first always,” she says. “They have human qualities. I have about 600 of them everywhere in the house.”

Reprinted with permission. King, T. (2013, April-May). ANCOR’s 2013 DSP of the year, Rosie Moriarity. ANCOR Links, 43(10), 8-9.