A press release from United Cerebral Palsy of Eastern Connecticut
On July 31, the United States Senate passed resolution 208, designating September 8-14, National Direct Support Professionals Recognition Week to honor the important and critical role they play in enhancing the lives of people with disabilities.
Gov. Dannel Malloy issued an official statement in support of the resolution declaring the same week Direct Support Professionals Recognition Week in Connecticut. But over in Quaker Hill, United Cerebral Palsy of Eastern Connecticut (UCPECT) strives to recognize their valued staff all year round.
Amy Owens is the lead staff of the day program at the Old Saybrook site of UCPECT.
“Mostly we’re just here to brighten their (the clients) day,” says Owens. We try to give each of them one on one attention. We find out what their interests are, and because some are non-verbal, we have to be creative to see their responses to things.”
During the day program they sometimes have a spa day, which everyone loves according to Owens. They play music, do arts and crafts, give massages, make cards to send to relatives and sometimes just talking is enough.
“We do make sure they have a role in whatever we’re doing. We do whatever it takes to make them smile. If you see a smile you know you’ve done well.”
Owens has been with UCPECT four years and is one of many direct support professionals who just love making a difference in the lives of the folks they work with. When she heard about Malloy’s declaration of Direct Support Professionals Recognition Week she said, “UCP has always done that. It’s a happy job and working here, I feel very appreciated.”
Desprince Applewhite also works at the Old Saybrook site.
“I’ve always been a people person and like to help others,” says Applewhite, who began working for UCPECT about four years ago when a friend suggested it might be a good fit. “I feel great. I love coming into work and how being here puts a smile on someone’s face. I can do things that make their life better and that makes me feel really good.”
He often goes out into the community with clients and they do grocery shopping or go to parks. Applewhite notices how doing that can increase public awareness and help change people’s perspective about those with disabilities.
“If you are outside looking in, you might not understand the struggles they go through. I try to be friendly as possible but also professional. I love my job. I like to help people and this is one way that I can do that.”
“Our mission is to promote independence,” said UCPECT executive director Margaret Morrison. “Our staff gets that. The community at large doesn’t have high expectations of people with disabilities. We have high expectations of our clients and our staff do as well.”
Although he works full time, Applewhite is pursuing a degree in the allied health field at the Community College of Rhode Island. “I could be in this field for a while,” he says.
Long before the U.S. Senate decided to recognize the value of direct support professionals, UCPECT was doing it in an ongoing way. They let their DSP staff of about 50 know how much they are valued all year long and will also celebrate them November 25-29, during their own Direct Support Professionals Staff Appreciation Week. The theme this year is “Giving Thanks.”
Over the years the organization has made staff recognition a priority through special lunches, bringing an ice cream truck to the sites, meditation opportunities, staff retreats and merit based incentive bonuses. One year they even went out to the parking lot and washed staff cars, a simple effort to say thanks to people who make a big difference.