I had the good fortune in 1976 to begin working with people with developmental disabilities. My first experience was working in a sheltered workshop. Although I had just completed by degrees, it was here I received my real education. It was here I got to know people at a level that opened a passion for me that I have seldom experienced. It was there I learned firsthand what it really means to be a Direct Support Professional (DSP.) It was there I first really learned the meaning of safe, healthy and meaningful …. words that would come to guide me and everyone at Choices as part of our mission statement. I often think of those days as some of my best days and wonder what it would be like today if I had continued as a DSP. And here’s part of the hard truth … I thought about the money.
DSP’s are not paid enough! They weren’t all those years ago when I was a DSP. They aren’t paid enough now, especially considering their job responsibilities. It is downright difficult work! From medication administration, health care tasks, personal and nutritional care, transportation, vocational support …you name it, they do it all! And they don’t get paid even near what they are worth. That’s why we at Choices, at Resident Home Association and at agencies across Ohio and our nation are in what is nothing less than a crisis. DSPs have made this their life’s work, dedicated themselves to others and they make little more than minimum wage because of the money available to us to pay the level of wages they deserve.
I worry for the present and for the future. We are in a constant state of recruiting, hiring and training. The resources used for this could be put to much better use in support of the people we serve, if only we could pay our DSPs enough to allow them to stay with us and build a career with us. You can help us make a difference. Join us. VOTE – make this an issue with your elected officials and ask them to support state budgets that will provide DSPs a living wage. RECRUIT – some of our best DSPs have come to us by word of mouth, from recommendations from a family member or friend. VOLUNTEER – there are so many opportunities to help at the individual, home or agency level. You not only provide new experiences for the people we serve, you lend a hand to our DSPs and let them know others care. DONATE – you can make an undesignated gift that can be used where it is most needed or designate it to a specific need. When you support a home or a program, you support not only individuals but those who serve as well. It really makes a difference when you feel like you are part of a team, part of a caring family. And don’t forget that simple yet important thing we can all do … take time to say thank you, to say you are doing a really great job! It’s not money in the bank, but it is support for the spirit!