Frontline Initiative Teamwork

Kennedy Award Recipient Exemplifies Professionalism

 My name is Jackie Randell. It is my great pleasure to tell you the extraordinary story of a Direct Support Professional (DSP), Mr. Lathan Simmons Jr., known as “Lakeside” to his friends. Lathan is a Professional Life Coach at Support Works, Inc. a non-profit agency in Raleigh, North Carolina, which provides a variety of support services to individuals with developmental disabilities and their families.

Lakeside is a humble, wonderful human being who loves his job and most of all, the people he works with. As the mother of a son with special needs, I deeply admire and appreciate Lakeside for the person he is and the job he does as a DSP.

Support Works is committed to the principles of person-centeredness, self-determination, and community inclusion. Its clients choose where they live, work, and have fun. Support teams, composed of Support Works staff, family members, and friends, assist each individual in successfully living and working in the community. In his role as a Professional Life Coach, Lakeside’s primary responsibility is to work with three people living in a supported living residence in Raleigh. Luckily, my thirty-year-old son Jeff is one of people to whom Lakeside provides supports. Lakeside encourages the three young men in life skill development, helps them to be accepted and respected in the community, and encourages them to improve their self-esteem, and to grow as individuals. He always goes the extra mile to help them to look their best at all times and he encourages them to reach higher and to accomplish more by continually seeking out opportunities for them to participate in activities in their community. The people he supports are busy bowling, swimming, hiking, going to ball games, or shopping. He has even led them and a group of their friends in going Christmas caroling in their neighborhood.

A single parent with two children, Lakeside is a devoted father who holds another full-time job in addition to his position with Support Works. Yet, he enthusiastically and diligently carries out his job responsibilities. As Jeff’s mother, I have had opportunities to observe Lakeside in both routine and challenging situations. I am constantly amazed by his energy, patience, sensitivity, insights, and heartfelt spirit. He has superior job skills and a contagiously delightful and charismatic personality. He loves, accepts and respects the people he supports for who they are, and they know it! 

My son feels secure and loved when Lakeside is around. He demonstrates confidence and trust in Lakeside’s guidance and responds positively to his gentle reminders to do his best. Because he is a person with autism, Jeff experiences frequent challenging behaviors throughout the day. His faith in Lakeside’s friendship allows him to feel less anxious as he accomplishes his daily activities. At a recent party, Jeff was unable to enter a room where many people had already gathered and some activities were underway, which is a typical symptom of his autism. A creative problem solver, Lakeside used the gift Jeff brought for exchange as a transitional tool to help him relax promptly and eventually enjoy the evening. Likewise, he facilitated Jeff’s participation in singing with the M’n’M Singers, a local choir. He stood by Jeff whenever he needed him during the concerts, and even performed with the group. 

Last year, Lakeside received the J.F.K., Jr. Award for Excellence in Direct Support, a distinguished honor from the President’s Committee on Mental Retardation. He also won the statewide award of Direct Service Professional of the Year, given by the Community Living Association, a North Carolina advocacy organization. Of his many professional and personal accomplishments, an important one is that the men he supports have grown as active and confident individuals. Their social skills and independence have vastly improved. They are enjoying an enviable life, for which they owe Lakeside in so many ways. To them, Lakeside is mentor, teacher, cheerleader, advocate, and most of all, a friend. He makes their home and community fun places to be.

This was originally a support letter written by Jackie Randell and submitted to PCMR in support of Lathan Simmon’s nomination for the JFK Jr. award.