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DSP of the Year

posted by Chris Sparks on Monday, May 9, 2016

“I didn’t think anybody cared about what we do,” shared a young woman who stopped me in the hotel hallway – a participant in the “DSP Leadership Academy” at ANCOR’s annual conference last year. We talked for a few minutes and I assured her that not only did many people care, there was much greater awareness of the tremendous impact of the work of DSP's than it might seem. I was struck by her awe and gratitude that people were broadly aware of the work of DSP’s and deeply invested in assuring that they received great training, competitive compensation, and critical benefits.

Over thirty years ago, I got my start in the field of disability services working in Missouri as a DSP in a residential program that served six people. At that point my houseparent partner (my wife) and I were immersed in a world that was virtually unknown to us. Very quickly we were captured by the very nature of the work; developing relationships with others and supporting them as they learned to build a life in the community. It was arduous and beautiful work, and all these years later it still is.

We felt it was essential that people were exposed to all aspects of community, from dining in restaurants (which I liked) to the community symphony (which I did not like, but one of our persons served loved). That’s what DSPs do: facilitate interesting, enriching, and novel experiences for the people they support.

The work of DSPs has changed much since I was in that role. It grows ever more complex as people with disabilities strive to create lives of their choosing and participate more fully in their communities.

Today, DSPs are called upon to be accomplished teachers, to be social guides, and to be skilled recorders to make sure that required documentation meets increasingly stringent Medicaid standards. Not to mention ancillary job requirements of being unfailingly upbeat, social chairman and activities organizer, confidante, provider of encouragement and hope, and conduit of information for family members and others. Wow!

Because of my previous work experience, and the impact of DSPs that I see here at EPI every day, I have a deep respect and appreciation for those who choose to work as DSPs.

That’s why I am proud to be a part of ANCOR – an organization committed to assuring DSP's have needed training, are fairly compensated, receive critical employment benefits, and are recognized for their contributions.

To further elevate the role of DSP's, a visionary group of ANCOR leaders created the National Advocacy Campaign (NAC). Through the NAC, ANCOR holds up the vital work of DSPs by working with Congress, Administrative Agencies, and the Executive Branch, to advocate for fair pay and benefits. The NAC also provides a framework for the work of DSP's to be recognized.

Once a year, ANCOR sponsors the “DSP of the Year” awards, where they honor outstanding DSPs from coast to coast. Hundreds of nominations are submitted. The nominations are then de-identified and passed on to a group of people who have the very difficult job of narrowing the nominations to one award recipient per state and one national recipient.

The DSP of the Year awards ceremony is a joyous celebration where phenomenal stories are told and many deserving people are recognized.

EPI nominated three DSPs for this national recognition. Pictured with me at this year's DSP of the Year ceremony in Chicago is Deborah Praska, David Stentiford, and Cindy Hill. We are tremendously proud of each of these individuals.  

I express my appreciation to EPI's nominees, all the state recipients, the national DSP of the Year recipient, and every single individual working in this role. Your work is important and you are making a difference – thank you!

About The Author

Chris Sparks served as EPI's third ever Executive Director from 1998 until 2022.