Frontline Initiative: Making Direct Support a Career

Change Your Perspective and Keep the Change

Author(s)

Eryn Starck is the executive assistant and NADSP liaison with Oregon Resource Association in Salem, Oregon. She can be reached at estark@oregonresource.org ​ ​

Kim Mintrone is training coordinator and legislative liaison with Oregon Resource Association in Salem, Oregon. She can be reached at kmintrone@oregonresource.org

Eryn Starck

Kim Mintrone 

Anyone who stays in this work, stays for the people. After speaking with a DSP of over 20 years, you could expect themes of saving every penny, stretching resources, fewer vacations, or even looking for additional work. But the first thing mentioned was the people they know, love, and support.

In an interview with an Oregon DSP, we learned that she experienced a humbling reality early in her career. Frustrated about the minimal pay, she wasn’t sure if she could make it work. Then she had to help a person she supported do their budget. She realized something: she made about double what they were making. “If they can make it work, I can make it work,” she said.

For many DSPs, it’s a harsh reality of keeping your expenses as low as possible so you can pay all your bills and hopefully have money left over to save or spend. It’s not impossible, and many have found effective, sustainable ways to live a life they love. It certainly requires hard work. It often requires sacrifice.

“One thing I’ve sacrificed is my diet,” said one DSP.  “Some months I have no choice but to eat nothing but ramen because I don't have enough money to buy healthy food. I bounce back and forth between diabetic and pre-diabetic. If it’s half way through the month and I only have $100 left, choosing junk food is my only option. Eating healthy costs more money.”

So, what can be done to help ease the financial stressors? When we asked our community of provider agencies if they offer financial wellness education or support, many responded with great examples. Some offer , 401k Advisors, financial management classes through local banks, Employee Assistance Programs, and more.* The question is then, Do DSPs use these resources? Or, are they applicable? Do DSPs even know what is available?

Bridging the information gap is important. It is important not just for ensuring that you’re familiar with the financial resources your agency provides, but also for learning how your agency budget works.  Knowing how an agency is funded can help you as a DSP understand how your agency’s hands are often tied with how much they can afford to pay you. They must advocate with your state to receive more money for things like wages, offering bonuses, and other benefits. Realizing that your agency is on your side in many ways is reassuring and hopefully draws you closer to the mission and reason you (and your agency) serve people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. With this information, you can advocate for this profession.

The DSPs we’ve encountered have dedication. More specifically, dedication to the people you support and the mission you follow. Without this, staying in a field that is grossly underfunded would be ridiculous and unsustainable. On behalf of the people you support, your agencies, and the community you live in, thank you!