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2011 Direct Support Professional of the Year

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2011 Direct Support Professional of the Year

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Gina BartlowGina Bartlow, Twin Rivers Associates, Stratham, NH

It is no surprise to the disability community how vital the Direct Support Professional’s role is. DSPs are not only support givers, they are advocates, teachers, and friends. That is why each year, ANCOR recognizes those whose unfailing devotion to the people they support draw the attention of providers, community members, and family of people served.

Through ANCOR’s DSP Recognition Contest, the best of the best are recognized and awarded the title of Direct Support Professional of the Year for their respective state. Additionally, one recipient is chosen as the DSP of the Year: the best of the best of the best. This year’s recipient is Gina Bartlow, a lead senior instructor at Twin Rivers Associates in Stratham, New Hampshire.

A single mother of an adult son with Down syndrome, Gina recognized the challenges of raising a child with special needs and realized that she could use her personal experience to help others. For the past 25 years, Gina has dedicated herself to caring for others as a DSP.

According to Jan Knox, project coordinator for Twin Rivers, “Gina exemplifies the best qualities of a DSP: kindness, compassion, understanding, patience, common sense, and—a big one—a wide streak of humor and fun.”

An Extraordinary Relationship

Gina’s kindness and compassion is exemplified in her relationship with Susan, a woman who is experiencing the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s. Additionally, Gina has demonstrated a profound understanding for Susan’s challenges and has worked closely with Susan’s family, who struggle to understand the ramifications of her advancing illness.

“Gina has taken the time to fully understand Susan’s needs and wants and will—without patronizing—accommodate and provide Susan with the care and nurturing that can, at times, only be found at home,” says Mark, Susan’s brother and guardian, with whom Susan lives.

Gina BartlowTogether, Gina and Susan attend plays and musicals. Gina has even hosted parties at her home for persons served. “I get paid to go places and have fun,” Gina says. “Every once in awhile, I feel like I make a real difference in somebody’s life—and that is rewarding.”

Gina and Susan also participate in “Twin Rivers Delivers!”—a program that provides free personal shopping for aging adults. Staffed by volunteers, the program gives individuals served an opportunity to support others. “Many of the people our clients support with [Twin Rivers Delivers!] are able to remain independent and in their homes longer than they otherwise would be able,” says Jan.

Susan loves to shop, and both Susan and Gina are active participants in the program. As a result of her participation, Susan has formed stronger community connections, befriending people at the stores, as well as the seniors she supports.

Leading the Pack

A natural leader, Gina often manages the Twin Rivers program in Knox’s absence, supervising her peers and managing the day-to-day aspect of running the program. Recently, Gina recently conducted a civics class and enlisted program participants to make signs for a rally at the New Hampshire State House to protest the budget cuts to Health and Human Services.

“Gina’s problem-solving skills, organizational skills, perspective and ability to prioritize are exceptional,” Knox says. “I have managed this program for 19 years, and I can very honestly say that she is the best hire I have ever had. She is adored by the clients and respected by her peers.”

What an Honor

Gina Bartlow delivers her acceptance speechThe ANCOR Direct Support Professional of the Year Award is judged on criteria in concert with the overall philosophy of ANCOR’s National Advocacy Campaign—to raise awareness for the direct support workforce. Among other criteria, nominees are judges on their effectiveness in building social networks; meaningful and productive participation in the community for the people they serve; and advocating or effecting change on behalf of people with disabilities.

Gina Bartlow embodies these criteria and will receive the DSP of the Year Award on June 7 at ANCOR’s 2011 Conference: Leading Cultures of Innovation and Advocacy.

“It is a huge honor to be DSP of the Year; I feel humble,” says Gina. “I don’t think I’m better than anybody else, so I am accepting the award on the behalf of all DSPs.”


2011 Direct Support Professional State Award Recipients

David VernonAlabama : David Vernon (ResCare, Inc.) simply amazes people with his boundless creativity and love for the DSP profession. Working in both residential and day habilitation programs, David has developed close personal relationships with all of the people he supports. He builds social networks for them, advocates for their medical treatments, and—to everyone’s delight—David plans absolutely incredible parties. A family member writes, “When he plans things, it is always for them.”

An unparalleled host, David is inspired—even driven—to entertain. He made and sold his homemade BBQ to raise enough money to throw an Elvis party. Not satisfied with just an Elvis cake, Elvis costumes, and Elvis Bingo, David arranged for a surprise appearance by (yes, you guessed it) Elvis! But the real star of the day was David.

Debra JenkinsAlaska : A diet of seaweed, kelp and fish is generally outside the norm for most people, but they are daily staples for her two native Alaskan residents—and Debra Jenkins (ResCare, Inc.) has worked hard to provide them with nutrition in keeping with their culture, including extensive research with a local native council member and a nutritionist. She also ensures they are able to participate in native Alaskan community activities, including drumming and dancing, to retain their cultural identity.

Debbie’s residents thrive on this extra special individual attention she gives—she’s been setting the gold standard for care and customer service in the small town of Soldotna for more than for 20 years. Undeterred by her remote location, Debbie obtains public guardians, arranges family visits and trips to enjoyable events in faraway locales such as Fairbanks, Sitka, Anchorage and Seward.

Additionally, Debbie has created a strong presence within her community, advocating for social activities for seniors, from fishing expeditions to tea parties.

Florence ChildsArizona : Florence Childs (Mosaic) put her culinary expertise to good use when she became a DSP. She taught roommates Melissa and Nancy to prepare wholesome, nutritious meals using their toaster and microwave ovens. Florence creatively distilled recipes into three or four steps and transcribed them on notecards with very simple instructions. Of course, the ladies benefitted nutritionally, but just as importantly, they benefitted from increased levels of independence, self-esteem and confidence.
Through Florence’s guidance and encouragement, the ladies attend summer camps and dances and enjoy vacations to locales as distant as Alaska. Florence also supports the women’s involvement within the community; as a result, Melissa has formed valuable friendships through her participation in the Silver Sneakers program at the YMCA.

Yolonda CastanedaCalifornia : Yolonda Castaneda (Hy-Lond Home) first learned about DSPs when she joined the housekeeping department at Hy-Lond Home. After observing DSPs in action and taking some self-assessment, she made a momentous career decision to transfer into direct care—and she never looked back.

Her unquenchable thirst for knowledge and skill development drove her to pursue further studies and eventually earn a Certified Nurse Assistant designation. Today, her skills and techniques are so highly regarded by her coworkers that they dubbed her a DSP “superstar.”

What makes Yolonda a superstar is her determination to provide supports in a manner that best suits each individual. One of her greatest triumphs occurred while working with a young man who only communicated by screaming. In a challenging situation that tested the patience of many, Yolanda developed communication techniques with him and ultimately taught him the value of addressing people by name, requesting assistance and establishing healthy relationships with others. Yolanda is truly a superstar when it comes to helping her residents achieve their highest level of independence.

Linda RogersColorado : Linda Rogers (Imagine!) is an employment specialist who loves teaching. In supervising people who require 24-hour attention and have limited communication skills and limited opportunities to develop job skills, Linda combines empathy and compassion to encourage adherence to high standards and meet expectations.

All job sites are out in the community where the people she serves often work alongside their employer’s regular crew. They are expected to achieve the same level of quality and work within the same deadlines. But these individuals learn more than just work ethics from Linda—they also learn the value of money and the value of saving to purchase dearly wanted items or vacation trips.

One individual who has worked with Linda for the past 10 years sums up their relationship this way: “Linda treats everyone well; she is kind, patient, and friendly....We’re good friends.”

Elisabeth DonovanConnecticut : Mary was very reluctant to leave her condo, resisting any and all overtures to enjoy the outdoors. Elisabeth Donovan (Dungarvin Connecticut, LLC), however, found the key to Mary’s heart: flowers.

Mary joined Liz in planting a flower garden in full view of her living room window; it was a dream come true. Then it happened again and again for Mary. Liz advocated for Mary’s physical therapy, diet control for weight loss and better grooming and housekeeping skills. When Christmastime rolled around, they created handmade gifts for Mary’s family.

The combination of these dramatic developments in Mary’s life resulted in more frequent visits and closer relationships with her family members. Mary’s sister writes, “I am grateful to have such a wonderful kind and caring woman working with my sister and am proud to know someone who gives so much to others.”

Liz is an inspiring role model, and her work with Mary has been undeniably transformational.

Sharlene DavisDistrict of Columbia : Sharlene Davis’ (Home Care Partners) two-hour commute (each way) requires traveling on two buses and the subway—but she is punctual and rarely misses a day. Sharlene supports several individuals in a cluster care arrangement at a senior building—and is adored by all of them.

What makes Sharlene so exceptional is her keen perceptions, kindheartedness and ability to engage clients in enthusiastically working with her. Her belief in their deep desire and overall ability to stay independent is inspiring and contagious—and they recognize how much Sharlene truly cares about their wellbeing. “Ms. Davis is very helpful in noticing things and making suggestions that help me stay active and healthy,” says Ms. Price, one of the women Sharlene supports. “She encourages me to keep moving, like taking a walk, or she’ll work with me while I crochet to keep my fingers moving.”

Eileen ChristDelaware : Eileen Christ (Mosaic) is always willing to assist those in need and never ever hesitates to volunteer her services. Her work with four men with developmental disabilities—several of whom are medically fragile—is a testament to her fervent devotion.

For one gentleman whose only relative lived out of state, Eileen was his family. When he entered hospice, their loving bond and mutual affection gave him inner strength to face the inevitable with grace. She was there for him every day.

Another gentleman Eileen befriended was catatonic when she met him. He once had a part-time job and enjoyed a level of independence that disappeared with his illness. Eileen’s reassurance and reinforcement guides him on his road to recovery and gives him the courage to regain his independence. Her deep commitment, generous heart and abundant love creates wonders.

Carol JonesGeorgia : Carol Jones (Shepherd Center) makes providing supports to people a part of her lifestyle—not just a job. For 39 years, she has been a DSP in numerous venues including hospitals, nursing homes, hospices, home health care facilities and within the community.

Carol is a bundle of energy with an infectious sense of humor and genial spirit. Advocacy comes naturally to her, and she’s even given testimony at myriad hearings and been a lead fundraiser for numerous causes. She mentors younger DSPs, actively promotes Atlanta’s Abilities Expo and energetically organized two resource fairs.

Her dedicated service has not gone unrecognized nor has it gone unrewarded. Carol is the recipient of the Brain and Spinal Injury Trust Fund Pathfinder Award and has been nominated for the National Spinal Cord Injury Hall of Fame and the Rosalynn Carter Institute Caring and Competent Caregiver Award.

Her many years of service took a personal turn in 2007 when she became her husband’s caregiver, yet she never missed a step fulfilling her DSP work.

Brenda WalkerIllinois : Brenda Walker (Association for Individual Development) learned early on that she possessed a natural gift for working with people with behavioral challenges, and over the years, she’s honed her skills to an exceptional level of expertise. Brenda is completely comfortable providing transportation, job coaching, in-home care, and medical advocacy.

Brenda is unwavering in her high expectations of herself and the individuals she supports and is equally comfortable with children and adults. She vacations with families, providing support to make their time together enjoyable. She stays home with children to afford parents some much needed respite. She is even successor guardian for numerous families.

A mother of twins with disabilities penned a tribute: “Brenda has been an angel in our lives. She has helped us through the rough spots, gives us a couple days away every so often and loves our children as her own.” A grateful father summed up his feelings this way. “In short, I trust Brenda implicitly!”

Maria CuelloIndiana : Maria Cuello (ResCare Community Services Central Indiana) doubted her ability to be a DSP, but her very first assignment changed that. A severely autistic young man—who yelled constantly, wouldn’t eat and would hit anyone who came near him—met his match when he encountered Maria.

She came near him. She spoke calmly to him. She treated him with respect—and actually expected something of him. He trusted her, and the bond between them cemented. When his mother chose to bring him back home, Maria adjusted her schedule to be with them both.

One evening when his mother collapsed, Maria happened to be there and stayed with him during the frightening ordeal. The next morning, they learned the sad news together: overnight, he’d lost his mother who was his biggest advocate and primary caregiver.

Without hesitation Maria stepped in to fill the crucial void. She worked unfailingly to help him start over. She settled him into a new home and eased him into learning to trust again and build new relationships. To her credit, his transition into his new life is a huge success. Today he greets staff and friends with an enthusiastic “Hi! What’s up?” that is often followed by an equally hearty handshake.

Maria, who once doubted her ability, has since blossomed into one of the best. Certainly one young man agrees.

Leanna HaahrIowa : Leanna Haahr (Exceptional Persons, Inc.) understands the importance of building a sense of community. “It’s about recapturing life for the persons I serve,” she says—and that’s exactly what you can expect to find her doing every day.

Leanna’s upbeat, can-do attitude encourages people to use their own voices to communicate their personal wants and needs. She engages them in a life of interdependence by coaching them to build relationships with others and gives them the freedom of choice. “Leanna is open minded, never judgmental, and always open to new ideas whether she agrees with them or not,” praises Terry, one of her persons served. “It’s because of her that I am what I am today, and I am a success.”

Velia FloresKansas : Velia Flores (Mosaic) works with numerous people who have very limited ranges of motor abilities, who communicate nonverbally and who require total care. Velia talks with them so naturally and with such ease, it’s as if she’s known them for a long, long time.

She does her job faithfully with certain grace and good humor, all the while relying on her maternal instincts to kick in when something doesn’t seem quite right. “Velia goes about her days as if the gift she offers Amy and her family is just part of how everything is supposed to be,” says Amy’s mom. “Our family thanks God that Velia’s work is a shining example of things working right because a person is willing to give her best every day.”

Shannon LandonKentucky : Shannon Landon (ResCare, Community Alternatives Elizabethtown) considers herself a big sister to two gentlemen and a young lady whom she supports. She successfully coached one man for over two years on sharpening his skills at cleaning, cooking and caring for himself. Today he enjoys living in his own apartment, paying his own rent and building a social network with his neighbors.

Shannon helped the other man detach himself from an unhealthy relationship that was stifling his freedom and opportunity to thrive. After he made the difficult choice to move on, she supported him in joining a bowling league and finding a new job. Shannon is even supporting him to live independently within the community.

Shannon’s “little sister” had great difficulty coping in social settings, but blossomed after Shannon introduced her to grooming horses at a nearby farm. Contentment and happiness are the obvious side effects of Shannon’s efforts.

Betty AndersonLouisiana : Betty Anderson (Terrebonne ARC) is a DSP job coach who’s known for her impeccable attendance and “divine” work ethic. She maintains, “It’s not work—it’s my passion….We have fun while we’re working, even in the hot Louisiana sun. We are a team, and we all come together to do the best job we can for our customer.”

Betty combines her characteristic patience, understanding, and giving nature to engage her people in meaningful work and stimulating life experiences through participation in the Bayouland Yard Krewe. At the same time, she continually challenges herself professionally growing her skills through part-time volunteer work at a community home.

Betty makes it her goal to be the best she can be for the people she supports so they experience increased self-determination and self-esteem. Their training and personal development is her highest priority, and she’s a natural at what she does.

Brian SalisburyMaine : Brian Salisbury (Support Solutions) has an extraordinary gift “C-ing” people, say his long-time colleagues—that is, supporting people through compassion, consistency and chuckles. All of this pays off for the 27 people he supports, a handful of whom exhibit such severe aggression that he is their last chance before facing a lock-down facility. Despite the challenges, Brian’s incredible creativity and amazing sense of humor breaks through their mental walls.

Brian declined a police transport and the requisite handcuffs to transfer a man needing medical attention to the local hospital. Rather, Brian and four coworkers created a human taxi and walked him in a football style huddle 1.04 miles to the emergency room. Each staffer held a beanbag to help the man feel totally safe and forestall injury.

In another situation, an individual previously lived in an institution and desperately needed physical exercise. Even though he enjoyed the view from his kitchen window, he wouldn’t go outside. Brian’s imagination shifted into high gear, and he donned a pair of snowshoes, marched over to the kitchen window and engaged in a series of goofy antics that fruitfully enticed his audience into joining him outdoors. Neither rain nor hail nor sleet nor snow stops Brian from supporting individuals and “C-ing” them.

Christine Bentley-BrooksMaryland : Christine Bentley-Brooks (The Chimes) treats individuals and coworkers as if they were her own family. She’s cherished for her humor, which keeps everyone laughing, and brightens even the most demanding days. “Chris always goes the extra mile,” writes a mother. “When Chris is at the house, I always feel comfortable that my daughter is being cared for with the best attention possible.”

Chris’ philosophy is to encourage the individuals she supports to take an active role in daily living, and she routinely engages them in doing household duties, recreational events and many other opportunities for interpersonal interaction within the house and the community. Chris makes life more interesting—and lots more fun—for everyone.

Derek KolpMichigan : Derek Kolp (ResCare, Inc.) knows from painful personal experience how lonely and isolated people can feel and now his goal is to provide quality supports, to be a positive influence for others in need, and to give back.

Derek learned to cope with his challenges by writing and recording his own hip-hop music about growing up with mental illness and other hardships he endured. In his DSP work, he knows that the individuals he serves will relate to his music and the positive spin he puts into his songs to help them feel better about themselves.

Derek’s music was a turning point for an individual who presented destructive, manipulative behaviors and had little regard for rules or supervisors. He helped this young man write and record his own rap music, which provided one-on-one time with Derek and a creative outlet for his aggression and frustration. “Derek showed me that my disability does not have to define me,” he says. He has shown me that anything is possible if I put my mind to it.”

Melissa HassebroekMinnesota : Melissa Hassebroek (Dakota Communities) has taken on many roles during her tenure: She’s been an advocate, a friend, a role model and a caregiver extraordinaire. She has trained hundreds of employees on the importance of community inclusion, advocates for more than 250 people her agency supports, and founded the agency’s Employee Council for Quality. But her greatest role by far is the one she assumes daily to help people realize their dreams and live their lives to the fullest.

She supported Dennis in his quest to be a self-advocate by realizing his dream to complete an eight-month course in political advocacy. At the end of the day, this dream took them both on travels to their state capitol and Washington, D.C., to meet their representatives and lobby for the rights of people with disabilities. Melissa’s personal campaign to fulfill another’s dream for self-advocacy led her on a journey that brought about meaningful and positive change for them both.

Beth TillmanMississippi : Beth Tillman’s (Brandi’s Hope Community Services) philosophy is, “’No’ is not a solution; there is a way to get it done!” Nothing is too insignificant or too demanding for Beth to take on if she believes an individual will benefit.

Through the years, Beth has advocated for independent living, jobs, cell phones, debit cards, and adaptive devices, among a list of other things too numerous to mention. A natural-born optimist, she always sees the bright side and passes this mindset along to others. Her principal objective in life is to support her individuals so they enjoy meaningful lives with independence and choice.

Larry always dreamed of working at Walmart. Through Beth’s guidance and support, Larry’s long-time dream came true, and today she assists him on his job at the local Walmart. Indisputably, it’s Beth’s can-do spirit and unflagging persistence that pays off.

Michele PetersonMissouri : Michele Peterson (St. Louis Arc) has a secret ingredient for her success: face-time. As a career consultant, she assesses each person’s skills and works with them one-on-one and for as long as it takes them to achieve their goals. She conducts mock interviews, provides feedback, does role-playing, accompanies people on their interviews and assists them on the job until they can work independently.

Families, employers, counselors, teachers and sometimes even doctors or therapists are all involved in the process, but Michele takes the lead to integrate all of the various facets. Keenly aware of the current job climate, she schedules personal meetings with employers, many of whom normally accept online resumes only. Employers take note when she explains the benefits of hiring people with disabilities; there aren’t many who turn her down once they hear her out.

It’s a challenge, but Michele says the reward of helping people find pride through employment is worth it.

Mitch WoodsMontana : Mitch Woods (Family Outreach) is a proactive DSP who stays on top of his own training so as to provide exceptional support services that allow the people he serves to excel. He takes the time to get to know his individuals personally and uses his insights to train new staff in ways that best meet each individual’s objectives and needs.

Mitch diligently took a person served to homebuyers’ classes and followed through to help him with the complicated process of purchasing his own home. Not one to leave anything half-finished, Mitch continues providing support as the new homeowner learns about the responsibilities of homeownership. Mitch is a DSP who appreciates what it takes to achieve personal fulfillment, and he goes out of his way to make it happen.

Dan HayesNebraska : Dan Hayes (Mosaic) works the Omaha job market to find competitive employment for the individuals on his caseload, and he is fully aware of what it takes to create a happy union between the employer and the employee.

J.A. was struggling with his new job at a neighborhood bar and grill, so Dan approached his employer with the idea to place J.A. on a slower shift. The schedule change turned out well, and Dan devoted additional time to support J.A. while he learned his skills.

M.M. longed to work in the movie industry, and Dan was able to find him a satisfying match. A local film company needed a custodian and was willing to provide a perk and teach M.M. more about their industry.

But Dan’s advocacy for his people is far more reaching than just finding them jobs; he gets money to help them learn their jobs. He appealed for increased vocational training funding for D.Y. and garnered quadruple the amount previously allotted! “It is important for me to have a job, and I am happy that Dan has helped me,” J.A. said. Looks like Dan has a lot of satisfied customers.

Hilda LeonNevada : Hilda Leon (Dungarvin Nevada, LLC) draws upon her native culture to add a special touch to the types of programs her persons served enjoy most. As a matter of course, she encourages their involvement in Special Olympics, People First, church and community events—but their favorite things to do are cook and eat her Peruvian food.

“Hilda is good,” says Mike, who is very fond of Hilda. “She is a really good cook. She helps teach me how to cook.” Shawn has something similar to say: “Hilda takes good care of us. She likes us. Her cooking is really good.”

Hilda’s family still lives in Peru, and she’s made sacrifices in her personal life to establish herself in the United States. She identifies with personal struggles for independence and quality of life and willingly advocates for the rights of people with disabilities. And Hilda teaches all new DSPs to do just the same.

Charlene WalkerNew Jersey : Charlene Walker (Community Access Unlimited) routinely sacrifices to make herself available to the people she supports 24/7. When she learned that Deborah would be transferring from the state institution, Charlene wanted to ensure a smooth transition. The multiple two-hour drives to the institution didn’t faze Charlene, because she was determined to develop a comfortable relationship with Deborah before the big move.

Everything went well so, when fall came, Charlene enrolled Deborah in the special needs school in her new town. Unfortunately, four months later, the school tried to discontinue educational services and place Deborah on home instruction until they could locate an out-of-district placement.

Charlene knew the break in Deborah’s routine would have detrimental effects, so she diligently researched Deborah’s right to remain in school by studying the New Jersey State Law for Special Education, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Educational Law Center’s advocate guide, The Right to Special Education in NJ.

And she didn’t just stop there. Charlene drew upon community resources and involved the Community Law Project, Union County Bar Association Referral Service, personnel from the Boggs Center, an attorney at the Educational Law Center, the director of Clinical Services at Trinitas Psychiatry Hospital and Deborah’s personal psychiatrist, a staffer from the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network and another private attorney. She also filed for a due process hearing to prevent the school from placing Deborah on home instruction without Emergent Relief. All of this was done within 30 days.

The result? Deborah’s case was the fastest out-of district school placement in the history of Community Access Unlimited. Deborah now has the education she deserves, plus vocational training—thanks to Charlene.

Joseph MedinaNew Mexico : Joseph Medina (Dungarvin New Mexico, LLC) is a residential coordinator who enjoys low turnover in his home—and his staff give him all the credit. He’s always willing to go the extra mile to assist his coworkers with meeting the needs of their individuals while actively supporting his own three.

He is genuinely proud of his team’s accomplishments, and rightfully so. Joe makes every effort to reestablish contacts with the families and sees to it that there is ongoing interaction with them. A sister of one of the men says, “He calls me if Michael needs a new bed or a new pair of shoes or if Michael won the cookie contest. He brings a quiet leadership to the home…Right now I have a sense of peace knowing that my brother is loved, not just taken care of.”

Joe is much-loved by those he supports and highly respected by their case managers and therapists alike. The home he manages reflects the personalities of its residents as evidenced by an abundance of their photographs, collages and personal items. But it also reflects the personal touch and devoted care of its manager, Joe Medina.

Jacob MuellerNew York : Jacob Mueller (HASC Center, Inc.) enjoys his work with his guys and considers their residence his second home. Jacob, better known as Yanky, cares for them like family. He fosters relationships between siblings, teaches his life skills and works out with the individuals he serves.

Even after leaving his job at 11 p.m., Yanky will head to the hospital to check on a resident to make sure he’s tucked in, shaved, cleaned up, and that all his needs are met. Yanky is soft spoken and confident and has a tranquil demeanor that all but contradicts a significant aspect of his inner self. Turns out he’s the life of the party!

Everyone rocks out when Yanky unpacks his keyboard and bangs out the tunes. There’s loads of singing and dancing and absolutely no one likes to miss out on the fun.

Yanky works hard to bring the people he supports into the community, understanding the benefit of community inclusion. Whether at the local supermarket, dry cleaners or synagogue, he encourages them to do what they can on their own and encourages them to be proud of who they are.

Robin BillingsNorth Carolina : Robin Billings (ResCare HomeCare) supports 26-year-old Brandi, a young woman who is diagnosed with cerebral palsy, severe intellectual and developmental disabilities and very limited ability to control her physical movements. Brandi is nonverbal and dependent on others for all daily living activities, but with Robin’s devoted attention and faithful tutelage, Brandi’s world of isolation has come to an end.

Thanks to Robin, Brandi uses eye-gaze communication techniques that enable her to convey her needs and wants. She has embraced her new world and now eagerly pursues her newfound interest in history, nature and literature. No longer cut off from community life, she enjoys shopping and dining in the community. And when Brandi’s family suffered consecutive family tragedies, Robin’s family embraced Brandi and welcomed her as their own until she was able to once again resume living in her own home.

Joel VarrianoNorth Dakota : Joel Varriano (HIT, Inc.) has an air that magnetically draws people to him. The individuals he supports love, trust and look up to him; he’s a role model, a mentor and a pal to the children and young adults living in his group home; and his colleagues consider him a friend.

Joel makes it a point to help each and every one of the individuals he supports to experience the community through their participation in Special Olympics, special nights out on the town, summer camp and family events. He assists and encourages others to join him in the National Downs Syndrome Society’s Buddy Walk and coaches Special Olympics soccer.

Chelsie, a resident at the group home says of Joel, “He’s a very good coach. He made me run laps around the soccer field. Then we went to Grand Forks and played three games. Joel was cheering me and everybody on. Then Joel lost his voice by yelling and cheering.” His enthusiasm and support is undeniable.

Brenda SloanOhio : Brenda Sloan (New Avenues to Independence, Inc.) not only provides support services for four women, but she also provides peace of mind to their families. She focuses on the individuals—not their disabilities—working to support each of them in enjoying positive, motivating relationships and becoming increasingly independent.

All of her ladies are urged to communicate personal goals and then to achieve them. With assistance from supportive neighbors, one of the women Brenda supports proudly planted her own vegetable garden. Brenda helped another woman plan a special get-together with her boyfriend and personally arranged for them to meet. Her clear compassion for the human condition coupled with caring, personalized support services is a powerful combination that makes Brenda an exceptional DSP.

Creston CappsOklahoma : Creston Capps (ResCare Oklahoma) originally took a position as maintenance coordinator, but once on the job, he had a different idea. He created a premier pen program and started teaching individuals to use a lathe to turn exotic wood and hand produce acrylic pens. Working with Creston, they learned new skill sets running machines and working with wood products and soon they progressed from piece rate earnings to hourly minimum wage. 

Creston took two of his wood turners to the Oklahoma City Arts Festival to demonstrate their craft and sell their pens. “The experience of making these pens and selling them has helped me,” says Bill. “I like working with the pens more than the other jobs I have had in the past. This has given me the opportunity to make more money. Turning nice pens and bottle stoppers gives me satisfaction that I didn’t get in other jobs.”

Once he established himself as a job coach, Creston branched out to teach other occupations. He learned sign language in order to train an individual with deafness in maintenance and then worked with him to build positive relationships in the business community. Undoubtedly, Creston has a way of bringing out the best in people.

Rollin TrentOregon : Rollin “Lonny” Trent’s (Spruce Villa, Inc.) faith in his individuals’ potential inspires all and through his faith he effects real change. He is so admired for his exceptional DSP abilities that he, more often than not, is paired with individuals with significant behavioral and mental health challenges. He’s an out-of-the box thinker who builds on individual strengths and limitations to exact excellence and achieve goals.

Bill was severely depressed and in withdrawal when he met Lonny. Through Lonny, a new world opened for Bill—one where smiles and laughter replace frustration and conflict. Together they started a cardboard recycling business that put Bill on the path to independence. Over time, he flourished and began considering moving to Colorado to be near his father. Once Bill made his decision final, Lonny helped him pack up, move and get a job in a sheltered work environment. Bill’s father gratefully acknowledges that Lonny helped Bill deal with the real world, gave him permission to dream, and created the opportunity for his dream to come true.

Megan MetzgerPennsylvania : Megan Metzger (SPIN, Inc.) makes the world a better place by believing in others and helping them create a life of possibilities. Being a busy mother of three young children hasn’t kept Megan from pursuing her passion: her DSP career.

She also encourages the three women she serves to pursue their passions. She concentrates on their strengths, rather than their weaknesses, and inspires them to live the life they want. All three joined SPARC, a self-advocacy group, and all three are experiencing personal fulfillment. Kathy found pleasure serving on the newsletter committee, especially after she discovered she didn’t have to write any articles, and Helen found enjoyable and delicious options for her lactose-free diet and adopted a much healthier lifestyle.

Megan cares deeply for these women, working hard to make their lives more rewarding and to see them happy.

Susan RamirezSouth Carolina : Susan Ramirez (ResCare HomeCare) is the “Energizer Bunny.” She works from sunrise to sunset supporting people ranging in age from 29 to 86, yet manages to find time to volunteer at the Cherokee County Pregnancy Center, spend time at her church and shop for ResCare. Added to all of this, she is the owner and manager of a successful goat farm.

While a bastion of energy and optimism, Susan knows about adversity first hand. She’s been through trying times with little or no support from her family, and she draws on these experiences to assist individuals in overcoming their obstacles. Susan arranges her daily schedule around the needs and interests of the people she serves, which includes medical appointments, Food Bank Day and/or community meetings and events of their choosing. She’s always in communication with the main office and jumps in to cover cases, provide extra support service and help out with office administrative tasks.

“Regardless of how her day is going Susan is always upbeat and smiling while caring for me and my family,” reports J.M.’s mom. “Susan is a jewel; a one of a kind caregiver.”

Jimi ObretenovSouth Dakota : Jimi Obretenov (Black Hills Workshop) shoulders incredible responsibility supporting at least 50 people a month. The numbers are challenging, but she is undaunted and always willing to go above and beyond her required duties.

Jimi supports her individuals in their volunteer efforts with the Humane Society, Rapid City Clean-Up Day and the United Way Day of Caring. After participating in the Buddy Walk, Darcy announced to Jimi that she wanted to join their local Ups of Downs Family Support Group. This introduced Darcy and Jimi to a social network that led to Darcy’s election to the Ups of Downs Board of Directors and culminated in a trip to our nation’s capitol to participate in the Buddy Walk on Washington.

Darcy’s affection for Jimi is entirely self-evident: “I think she definitely deserves this award, because she’s been a good person to me, (I’m gonna cry) and I care a lot about her.” Bobby’s family members echo Darcy’s sentiments: “You are a blessing!”

Aimee RogersTennessee : Aimee Rogers (Open Arms Care) is a program specialist and the creative force behind Flying Brushes Art. Aimee brings out the hidden talents in her friends from Open Arms Care; her artists don’t color within the lines, rather their art is all about how they see things.

She is certified in a specialized technique that allows people with even the most profound physical disabilities their own choice of canvas size, paint texture and application method. If someone is unable to voice or physically make a selection, a laser is available for someone to point out options.

One of Aimee’s tasks is making frames for the art produced in her program and she worked around the clock to prepare her artists’ paintings for Southern Adventist University’s art show.
Will’s mom said this: “When Will started painting, it brought tears to his eyes because he was so happy. He gave one of his pictures to his cousin, and he gave one to country music singer Aaron Tippin…. At the last art show, Will sold a piece and was able to keep all the money.”

Aimee gives the people she serves the tools to paint their dreams.

Haynette MillerTexas : Haynette Miller (Mosaic) is difficult to summarize in a few words. A quiet, dignified woman with a heart bigger than her home state of Texas, when she became primary caregiver for her own mother she remained steadfastly committed to her work and the people she serves. Being a DSP isn’t just a job for Haynette; it’s a commitment to some very important people.

Haynette shows her commitment when she calls a doctor’s office 20 times in one day, because it means a person she serves has an opportunity for better health. She will drive more than 200 miles in one day to transport an individual who needs to be evaluated for a new wheelchair to ensure that person’s quality of life is protected.

Monica describes her deep admiration and love for Haynette: “She always listens to me and takes time to ask me how I am doing, even when she’s not really at work. Haynette takes me and my boyfriend out on dates even though it’s kind of hard to take us because he is in a wheelchair, and I walk slowly and sometimes need help walking. Haynette cares about me like I am her real family and wants to make sure that my rights are always protected. Haynette took me a lot to see my transplant doctor and they decided to hang my picture up on the ‘Transplant Hall of Fame.’ Haynette was so excited to tell everyone about it and said she was proud of me. Haynette is a great manager and she deserves an award.” We agree.

Laipeisi FotuUtah : Laipeisi "Pacey" Fotu (Dungarvin Utah, LLC) exemplifies what it means to include individuals with disabilities in the community. As a host home provider, she welcomes individuals into her own home to fully immerse them in community living.

While she currently supports two men, for a while, Pacey and her family hosted Taylor only. He went everywhere they went: to the grocery store, the bank, the far reaches of Utah, Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm. Every outing was an opportunity for Taylor to become a little more self-sufficient.

Hosting in your own home isn’t without challenges: One time, Taylor plugged the toilet in his bathroom and almost flooded the entire basement. Pacey’s attitude? “It’s part of my job.” Yet to hear Pacey talk about Taylor, you’d think he is one of her own children, not her job.

Taylor’s parents write that before Pacey, Taylor “would have self-inflicted bite marks on his hands when we picked him up each weekend.” They report that this behavior ceased almost immediately with Pacey in the picture. “We feel grateful for Pacey and are so lucky that we have Taylor in her care. We would be hard-pressed to find the wonderful level of care she provides anywhere else.”

Belva M’VembaVermont : Belva M’Vemba (Families First, Inc.) has been a mainstay in Brittany’s life for the past 18 years. Brittany was diagnosed with severe Athetoid Cerebral Palsy and is unable to walk or talk. Brittany’s parents realized early on that she needed special services beyond their capabilities—then, they found Belva.

Brittany comes from a family of seven children living on a small working farm who all attended their local three-room school for their K-8 education With Belva’s loving guidance and gentle direction, Brittany is a now high school graduate—and even has a job.

Belva worked closely with the High School Vocational Rehab Center to create and develop a job for Brittany after graduation. Using adaptive equipment Brittany reads to children in grades K–3 without actually saying a word. Every day, Belva takes Brittany to the many schools and public libraries where Belva and Brittany engage the children with stories—and the children love them for it.

Peter BergstromVirginia : Peter Bergstrom (Eggleston Services) works in a greenhouse at Eggleston’s horticultural center. There he builds confidence and self-esteem through hands on training in gardening and grounds maintenance.

His group installed a new watering system within an on-site greenhouse at no additional expense, simply using parts found around the premises. That particular greenhouse became so productive and so admired that another organization requested help in building there a system.

Peter’s program ensures that his budding associates see past their challenges to realize independence and improve the quality of their daily lives. He incorporates skits and songs into his greenhouse training program and gives them all ample opportunity to demonstrate what they’ve learned.

Anne is an associate at the greenhouse and provides insight into Peter’s operations saying, “I like Peter a lot. Peter’s been at the nursery for five years, and he loves what he does at work. He makes people feel good and make us laugh. He makes us sing for problem solving.” In the end, the quality of their work speaks volumes about the program, about Peter and about his associates.

Daniel MacharWashington : Daniel Machar (ResCare Seattle) is a survivor. He is one of the “lost boys” who were either orphaned or separated from their families during the Second Sudanese Civil War, a period of government-inflicted violence and terror. He was given refuge in the United States and an opportunity to attend college on an athletic scholarship, but instead, Daniel opted to enter the workforce to earn money for his sisters, nieces and nephews sheltered in Kenyan refugee camps.

When undue circumstances forced the individuals he served to evacuate to a hotel, Daniel single-handedly moved them in a matter of hours. It was a supreme challenge as one suffered from dementia and another lived with extreme anxiety. Together, they gathered their essentials and settled into temporary housing where they remained for a number of months. Daniel then successfully transitioned them into their new surroundings, reintegrating them into their routine activities and making sure they were in contact with their anxious families.

Daniel draws strength from his past. He tackles challenges head-on with a smile and a deep reassuring chuckle, and he inspires people with his goodwill, his positive spirit and strong ethics.

Leah GreeneWisconsin : Leah Greene (Dungarvin Wisconsin, LLC) never lets go once she takes on a challenge. She accepted an extraordinary assignment to work with Amy, who spent years living in an institution behind locked doors and brick walls. Amy possessed a magnitude of complex mental health and developmental diagnoses that she manifested through physical and verbal aggression and property destruction, and her previous attempt at living in the community lasted only five hours!

Leah knows precisely when to be compassionate with Amy and when to be firm and direct. Amy describes her life with Leah: “I like that Leah works with me because she does fun things with me, like she takes me to my Dad’s house, she takes me camping, and she helped me plant a vegetable garden. Leah also helps me a lot with my behaviors. We listen to lots of music, which is one of my favorite things to do. Leah has taught me a lot about cooking since I came and I enjoy cooking and baking with her.” With Leah as her coach, Amy walked away from institutional sorrow into a world filled with joy.