Taking The Lead

Although there are roughly 75,000 direct support professionals in New York, only 14 have achieved an advanced-level certification through the National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals. Four of those individuals are employees of The Resource Center and were honored at a small event Friday.

Direct support professionals are the people who provide direct care to individuals with disabilities in the day programs and homes that are operated by agencies like The Resource Center. In recent years, there has been a nationwide push to create a program that would allow for direct support professionals to attain credentials that would be recognized by any agency in the nation. Kristen Farmer, Carla Hall, Brigitte Hodnett and Lisa Swanson were presented certificates and gifts at a small ceremony with other direct support professionals and administration from The Resource Center.

“Our class was a pilot program, so we were the very first group to start from this agency,” said Hall. “It was tough. We met twice a month for two hours and had to do computer work on our own, as well. We had to take eight different areas and create portfolios on how we’ve applied those to working with the individuals that we do. It was a lot of work – a lot of sending stuff in, getting it back, redoing it, sending it back in, getting it back, redoing it. It was good, though. We became really close because of it. This kind of proves that we know what we’re doing and that our focus is on each individual and their individual needs and abilities.”

There were originally 13 direct support professionals from The Resource Center that were attempting to complete their advanced-level certifications, but by the end of the program that number had dropped to four, according to Hall. There is one more level of certification above what she and the other three direct support professionals just completed to become a DSP-S, that being a specialized direct support professional. All four said that they are at least considering continuing their coursework to complete the final level, and Hall has even begun work on it already.

“We feel really close because we had the chance to spend this time together and work on areas that we might have been struggling with before,” said Hodnett. “It was nice to have our team together. We gave each other ideas, and I think it worked because we were able to see each other face to face. It wasn’t the easiest process, but I tested myself with it and I’m glad that I did now that it’s completed. We feel pretty honored, I feel like I should be walking the red carpet.”

Paul Cesana, executive director of The Resource Center, looked at the success of Farmer, Hall, Hodnett and Swanson as a way to pave the road for more direct support professionals from The Resource Center to receive their credentials in the future.

“It really is satisfying to reach this moment because we know how hard they worked for it,” said Cesana. “When we first heard about the process, we thought it was just be getting involved and going through step by step. I don’t think any of us realized how intense the commitment was. The interactions between the individuals that they support are always so precious, but also so demanding. To add all of these additional expectations of viewing it within the context of what it all means, it really adds to the difficulty. I want to express my appreciation that they stuck with it and were some of the few people that finally reached this milestone – it’s unbelievable. Hopefully now they’ll pave the way for other individuals as more people try to follow their lead.”

According to Don Traynor, staff development specialist, the process to achieve an advanced-level certification was a rigorous one, requiring more than 200 hours of educational studies and the development of eight in-depth portfolios.

“These ladies have been in this field for a long time and have a lot of history,” said Traynor. “I think each one would tell you that as they immersed themselves in this process, they’ll see that they’ve changed. We looked across the country, saw what worked, developed a cohort, and put together a group that could pull this off and really immerse themselves in it.”