This week, South Dakota is recognizing the impact Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) make in our communities and on the lives of those they support.
DSPs work closely with individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities helping them with the demands of day-to-day living.
Since Gov. Kristi Noem declared Sept. 13-19 to be Direct Support Professionals Recognition Week last year, Yankton’s Ability Building Services (ABS) — an organization that offers residential, employment, pre-vocational and nursing services to those with intellectual and developmental disabilities — has embraced DSP week as an opportunity to thank all those who care for its clients.
The theme for this year’s DSP Recognition Week at ABS is “Survivor.” Activities kicked off Monday with a proclamation by Yankton Mayor Stephanie Moser, followed by bags of goodies and supplies for all staff.
Highlights included prizes, pizza, a food-truck meal and an employee cook-off day.
Staff were also invited to attend various gatherings, including the mayoral proclamation, the “Simply the Best” award and the years of service awards.
After the mayoral proclamation, Nickie Anderson, the residential director for ABS; Kayla Nedved, residential DSP for ABS; and Jessine Dutcher, Supported Employment DSP for ABS, talked with the Press & Dakotan about their jobs over the last year and what motivates them to keep going.
“I wake up every day and I look forward to coming here. I don’t know how many people who can say that.” Dutcher said. “This job is so rewarding. We teach people new skills so that they can grow and become independent and competent individuals.”
Dutcher, who has been a DSP since 2009, also said she believes the leadership at ABS is moving the organization in the right direction.
“I like taking the people out and having a relationship with them,” said Nedved, who has been a DSP for 2½ years. “It’s like a whole new family when I walk into work, and there’s a motivation to come to work because it’s your ‘other’ family.”
As part of her job, Nedved has taken ABS residents swimming at the new aquatics center, for a walk on Yankton’s Meridian Bridge, and to events both in and out of town, including a recent monster truck rally in Sioux Falls, she said.
Until COVID-19 cases dropped earlier this year, ABS did not have any staff or people supported going from one location to another, Anderson said.
“They were at their own locations and only seeing the same staff, the same people supported,” she said. “Eventually, we were able to help open that up, and they were able to go to different locations and visit people outside, do activities together, but a lot of them went a good solid year without seeing some of their friends or the other staff that they had relationships with.”
Not all supported individuals were locked down, however.
“We’ve continued with supported employment,” Dutcher said. “People were still going to their jobs, and we still needed to support them the best that we could to keep them protected.”
With vaccinations and lower coronavirus numbers, staff at ABS thought perhaps they were done with COVID protocols. However, those measures are starting back up again, she said.
“We’re looking at the (COVID case) numbers again in our county, and we did go back to wearing masks,” Anderson said. “About 80-85% of the people supported and our staff are vaccinated, so it does allow for us to have a little bit more freedom, and feel comfortable with continuing our lives somewhat normally.”
The mask requirement over the first year of the pandemic was hard on people, said Nedved.
“When you’re talking to the people supported, they’re looking at you, like, ‘Are you smiling or are you angry?’ It was tough,” she said.
Due to the unique challenges of the job, letting DSPs know that they are appreciated and supported makes a big difference in staff morale, Dutcher added.
“There are certain types of people who do this job, and we have really big hearts, and these people are part of our lives,” she said. “We come every day and we’re glad to be here, but it’s nice to be appreciated and this week is fun.”