Frontline Initiative Professionalism
A Dream of Direct Support
I cannot remember a time in my life when I did not want to work in the field of disabilities. When I was four years old, I saw a deaf actress on Sesame Street and was fascinated by her. I had a million questions about what it was like to be deaf and about sign language. Once my sister had answered my questions the best she could, I decided that I wanted to grow up to teach deaf children to sign and speak. I dreamed of working with people with disabilities. Little did I know at that age that I had a learning disability and how this would affect my life, including my desire to pursue the career I wanted as a Direct Support Professional (DSP). I would eventually receive services from DSPs such as getting weekly help with my schedule and budgeting, but I didn’t think that receiving services would be a conflict with my dream to provide them as well. My desire stayed with me, and by the time I was in high school, I began to take steps toward fulfilling this dream.
I set out on a twelve-year road that led me to my current position as a Direct Care Worker in a group home. I first worked with kids who had developmental disabilities at a day camp and an after-school program. I loved being with the kids and began thinking about working in a group home. After that I worked as a teaching assistant for a kindergarten class, and later as a field assistant for the Self Advocacy Association of New York State for six years. During these twelve years, I met many who tried to discourage me from my dream. Nevertheless, my goal all fell into place this year.
The agency that provides supports for me at the apartment where I live was opening a new group home. One of the people who would be living there was someone for whom I had already provided supports for six years. (He had participated in a recreational program of On Your Mark for which I work.) At this point I was at a very bad time in my life. Alone and not knowing where to turn, I ended up talking to the director of my agency. The people at the agency had helped me and impressed me so much with their services that I often thought of working for them, but I didn’t think it would really happen. I mentioned my desire to expand my experience in direct support and told the director about my dream. Much to my surprise, he said, “You know, that’s not a bad idea. I’ll have the residence manager of the new group home call you to come in for an interview.” She called me the next day and had me come in for an interview. As I was getting ready to leave, she shook my hand and said, “Welcome to residential.” I wanted to laugh because I had already been a resident in the program for five years. Just when I had thought my life was hitting bottom, I ran home with wings on my feet. I got the job!
Yet, just as quickly as I’d gotten the job, it almost slipped away from me. That same night, the manager of the apartment program where I live told me, “Well, I have reservations about this. I don’t think this will work because some of the residents in that house are your peers, but the decision is up to the director of residential.” My case manager and a few other staff felt the same way. This really hit me hard because these were people I trusted and had loved like family. I waited a month before I was called in to meet with the manager of the new group home, again, and the director of residential services.
My fears vanished, and my dream returned. I still had the job! They hired me as a Direct Care Worker and they expected me to do everything that other staff personnel do. I liked that. The house has been open for 18 months. When it comes to work, I am very happy. I primarily work with two young men who have autism. I teach them daily living skills (cleaning, cooking, etc.) and behavior management. Six individuals live in the house and each is very special to me in his/her own way, and all of the staff are very understanding toward my disability. No one stops me from doing a single thing, and they always ask before they step in to help me.
My life is pretty great right now. I’m doing work that I enjoy and I’m living out my dream. My dream is still growing, though. Eventually, I want to focus on early intervention with children with autism and would like to get training for speech pathology, too. The work I’m doing now is great experience for this and another step toward achieving more of my dream. In closing, I would like to leave you with my favorite saying: “A dream is a goal that is a little out of reach.