Direct Support Professionals: Their Role is at the Heart of Compassionate Care

Direct Support Professional Meredith Burris captures a "selfie" with people supported at Monarch's Montgomery Community Living Skills day program.

Meredith Burris, a direct support professional at Monarch’s Montgomery Community Living Skills location, captures people supported in a selfie before enjoying the “Night to Shine” event.

Monarch employs over 800 direct support professionals (DSP) to assist, guide and empower the people we support. DSPs do this in many ways with the value of what they do beyond measure.

As defined, a DSP’s main role is to help people including individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities lead self-directed lives, provide assistance with daily living activities and encourage community inclusion. To the people we support, DSPs are the confidant, best friend, patient listener, shoulder to cry on or someone to high-five.

Monarch celebrates the important role of DSPs in the lives of the people we support and their families during Direct Support Professionals Week, Sunday, September 13 through Saturday, September 19.

Monarch Chief Operations Officer of Long-Term Services and Supports (LTSS) Christy Shaver, BS, MHA, believes that DSPs are one of the most critical components of our organization: “Monarch direct care staff work face-to-face with the people we support. We rely on frontline staff to build lasting, trusting relationships with the people we support and their families. The relationships that are built lead to families and people believing in us as a support agency and entrusting us with some of the most intimate details of their life.”

Shaver added that “the emotional attachment” you often see between a DSP and someone they are supporting is unique in many ways. “It is very common for us as staff to connect to individuals we support in the same way we would our own family,” she explained.

Shaver defined the role of a DSP as multi-faceted. “On any given day, a DSP might find themselves as an advocate, a confidant, a friend, a counselor, a teacher, a coach, a mentor, an exercise pal, a dinner date or just someone to listen,” she described. “The ability to move in and out of these roles effectively is a skill that can’t be easily taught, it comes from people who genuinely care about others and enjoy supporting people to grow and explore their life.”

Here are a few of Monarch’s DSPs who shared what working in their role means to them.

Direct Support Professional Diedre Blue wearing an orange dress.Diedre Blue
Developmental Specialist Vocational, Monarch Cultural Arts and Community Center Community (MCACC), Moore County

Tell us about a memorable experience as a DSP.
When my client was being very difficult. He was having a bad day. But all of a sudden, he burst out and started laughing. He laughed and he laughed. I couldn’t do nothing but laugh too. We both laughed so hard. Then he gave me a hug something he NEVER do. He’s non verbal. In his way he was telling me he was sorry. It touched my heart. At the end of the day when I drove home I cried a little. That hug said all the words he couldn’t.

The most rewarding aspect of being a Direct Support Professional is . . .
What’s rewarding to me is knowing you made a difference in that person’s life.

The past few months have been difficult for everyone through the pandemic. What is one lesson you have learned that you would like to pass along?
I’ve learned that you can’t take life for granted. I’ve learned to be considerate of others and keep a positive mindset

James McMillan
Developmental Specialist Vocational, Vocational Options Hoke County, Hoke County

Tell us about a memorable experience as a DSP.
The most memorable experience in which I have encountered as a DSP has been to witness an individual that could not express their needs and desires verbally turn to me out of all others around to assist them in an appropriate and life-changing encounter.

The most rewarding aspect of being a Direct Support Professional is . . .
We as DSPs have the opportunity to advocate for the people we support in all aspects of their lives. We are the ones who can and should help to make the people we support lives worth living in an environment most can not comprehend.

The past few months have been difficult for everyone through the pandemic. What is one lesson you have learned that you would like to pass along?
I have learned through this pandemic that we must be able to stand and uphold the necessary changes to keep ourselves, as well as the people we support, safe. And, we must learn to speak up about our own well-being to keep from burning out physical and mentally.

Meredith Burris
Developmental Specialist Vocational, Montgomery Community Living Skills, Montgomery County

Tell us about a memorable experience as a DSP.
My most memorable experience as a Direct Support Professional would have to be having the opportunity to take a part in creating a choir at MCLS. This has been a lasting experience that has majorly impacted the people we support at MCLS. I have seen many people we support fall in love with music and bloom throughout this experience. Parents and guardians have even expressed how much change they have seen since our choir has been created. It has truly been amazing to see how something so simple can have such a big impact.

The most rewarding aspect of being a Direct Support Professional is . . .
Hands down, the most rewarding aspect of being a Direct Support Professional is getting to play a part in making a difference in other’s lives. Seeing the people I support’s joy when they reach a goal or accomplish one of their dreams is truly fulfilling.

The past few months have been difficult for everyone through the pandemic. What is one lesson you have learned that you would like to pass along?
During the last few months as a Direct Support Professional, I have learned how important the services we provide to the people we support truly are. The people we support depend and thrive on us showing up for them every day no matter what else is going on in the world. As Direct Support Professionals our attitude and outlook on things directly impacts what the people we support’s outlook and attitude will be.

Andrea Haley
Development Specialist Sleepover, George Street Group Home, Johnston County

Tell us about a memorable experience as a DSP.
An experience that blessed my heart was when a person we supported contacted me to let me know that she had made a connection with a long, lost family member. This was a memorable experience for me because it showed me how comfortable the pws feels communicating with me.

The most rewarding aspect of being a Direct Support Professional
The most rewarding aspect of being a DSP is helping improve the lives of our PWS and receiving a thank you from them.

The past few months have been difficult for everyone through the pandemic. What is one lesson you have learned that you would like to pass along?
During these unprecedented times, we are having to take extra precautions for everyone’s safety. One of the most important lessons I would like to share is, “Learn to adapt.”

Mary Terrell
Behavioral Specialist Sleepover, Austin House Group Home, Mecklenburg County

Tell us about a memorable experience as a DSP.
I just don’t have one memorable experience working as a DSP, I have many. The loss of three of my PWS’s was a shock and very heartbreaking. They were great people and I will never forget them.

The most rewarding aspect of being a Direct Support Professional is . . .
The most rewarding aspect of being a Direct Support Professional for me would be having the opportunity to teach and contribute to their growth and independence.

The past few months have been difficult for everyone through the pandemic. What is one lesson you have learned that you would like to pass along?
I would say a lesson that I have learned would be to be better prepared for the unexpected. From all the years I have lived, I have never experienced anything like this pandemic. It just made me more aware and compassionate for others.