This is Direct Support Personnel (DSP) Week in South Dakota, dedicated to recognizing individuals who serve those with learning and developmental disabilities in our communities.
DSP Week kicked off Monday morning at Yankton’s Ability Building Services (ABS) with a proclamation from Mayor Nathan Johnson and a prize drawing.
According to the proclamation:
• There are nearly 3,300 direct support professionals working for 20 community service provider agencies and the South Dakota Developmental Center;
• Direct support professionals provide essential supports for individuals with disabilities to be involved in their communities or strengthening relationships with family and friends;
• Direct support professionals support individuals with disabilities to earn prevailing wages and foster careers in their communities.
“Communities are strengthened and enriched by the inclusion of all members of society, regardless of their disability,” Johnson said, addressing a small, masked group of DSPs at ABS. “Direct Support Professionals Week is an opportunity to recognize the dedicated, hardworking and compassionate professionals who support individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and thank them for their service to South Dakotans and their families.”
This year’s theme for DSP Week is “Heroes Work Here.” Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, much of the recognition is being posted online. The reading of the proclamation was posted to the ABS Facebook page as well as individual employee-recognition awards and photo contests and results.
There were no group activities, but there was a scavenger hunt. Also each DSP received a voucher for a taco at a local food truck, as well as daily pizza deliveries and prize drawings throughout the week.
ABS has about 98 local DSPs who support 112 individuals 24 hours a day, seven days a week, sometimes over nights and on weekends.
“DSPs work hand-in-hand with individuals with developmental disabilities,” Nickie Anderson, Residential Services team leader at ABS, told the Press & Dakotan. “They support them in their daily lives, whether it be working, getting groceries, getting their hair cut or going to appointments. They give a wide variety of support to let individuals live as independently as possible.”
DSP Week aims to give these workers kudos for their efforts, Anderson said.
Some of ABS’s DSPs have had their positions for over 10 years, with one being recognized this week for 35 years of support as a DSP.
“It’s a very rewarding job helping these individuals accomplish things that they want to do in their lives,” Heather Henderson, who has been a DSP for the last 10 years, told the Press & Dakotan. “It’s really cool to see how far they can grow in their personal lives.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has made this year different from years past, not only in how DSP week is celebrated, but also in the lives of her clients, she said.
“It makes it more challenging when you can’t support them in the things that they normally do,” she said. “So, thinking outside the box is a No. 1 key in our job right now. Thinking of different outdoor activities, so they still can enjoy life, the things they like to do.”
For Henderson, one of this year’s highlights came when she realized how well her clients were handling their “new normal.”
“I think that the individuals are accommodated to COVID and the different life that we have to have right now,” she said. “I think they have all just done great in trying to live life the best they can.”