Frontline Initiative International
I Love What I Do
When I graduated from college and set out to start a career, I had no idea where I was going or what I wanted to do. I did know that I wanted to do something that made me happy and wanted to work with people in some capacity. I looked for a job for six weeks after graduation and interviewed for jobs with many companies. It was very frustrating. Finally, on September 27, 1994, I accepted a job with Martin Luther Homes, Inc. of Colorado, an agency that provides supports to people with disabilities. Little did I know that this first job out of college would allow me to more than meet my goal of being happy. Although this job was intended to be a stopgap until finding an ideal one, I have been with them ever since.
I love what I do. Yes, there are drawbacks — working odd hours, supporting people who have seizures or who are up all night because of illness, etc. — but the rewards far outweigh the drawbacks. The best part of my job are the relationships and, more importantly, the friendships I have developed with those with whom I work. I am currently a companion home provider for one person, an experience which has proven to be fantastic. His progress over the last two years has been nothing short of spectacular. He has gone from having anxiety in crowds to going to college football games and loving every minute; from having trouble waiting even a few minutes to having more patience than most people I know; and from living in a group home with several others to living in an apartment with a single roommate. Being a part of his progress has made me richer than any amount of money that I may have been paid. The relationship that I have developed with him includes that of staff/ client, but also is a situation where we are truly friends.
Wouldn’t we all like to have jobs where the rewards of our efforts are tangible and measured daily? Unfortunately, the rewards and victories in the field of developmental disabilities are often small and the setbacks can be frustrating. Every person has certain goals and many of them cannot be reached immediately. As direct care staff, we share those goals and do whatever we can to help the people we support achieve them. At the end of every workday there are no scoreboards, no applause and no one to tell you whether or not you were successful. We quickly learn to appreciate every positive step that the people we support take, no matter how small the step may seem to others. While big victories may not occur as often as we would like, when they do, the feeling of accomplishment is unbelievable.
For example, I once worked with a man who wanted to learn to cook. I had set up a color-coded strategy to teach him how to set his oven to certain temperatures because he didn’t know the difference between numbers. I would ask him to preheat the oven to blue, and he would attempt to turn the dial to blue. Six months later — zero success. I had given up, but continued the instructional program to meet policy requirements. Then one night, I asked him to preheat the oven to green. I turned away to do something else and a few seconds later I heard him say, “Ok, I did it.” As I walked over to readjust the oven knob, I saw that it was set correctly and said, “You did it, you did it!” As long as I live I will never forget the big smile on his face and how excited he was. He had reached a goal and achieved a feeling of accomplishment that cannot be measured tangibly. As for myself, his victory was my victory. To some it may seem insignificant, but that feeling of victory and excitement provides a level of satisfaction that keeps me in this field.
As one DSP to another, I urge you to remember that you are a very important person. As a society we are taught that the people who make more money and have the fancy titles are the most important people. In our work, though, the people to whom we provide supports may not care who the human resources director is, but they do care about the people who can help them with whatever they need help with, and they rely heavily on the people who are there every day. Because we spend the most time with the people who receive the services, they count on us to look out for their safety, health and happiness. So when that overnight shift, or the twelve-hour Saturday shift seems like it will never end, please remember that you are appreciated. Someone once said that the job is its own reward. I like to think that they were talking about the field of developmental disabilities when they said that. To all of you who are currently working in direct care, THANK YOU!