Over 12 years ago, I was very involved in Volunteers of America’s evacuation and recovery from Hurricane Katrina. For almost 3 months, I worked with individuals from our group homes in New Orleans who were sheltered at a church camp in Palestine, Texas. It was a humbling experience and in many ways, one of the finest times of my career. I got to see people at their very best, despite difficult circumstances. I remember vividly, the attitudes and fortitude of DSPs, who kept working despite their personal losses and emotional turmoil.
It was truly amazing. From that experience, Volunteers of America and the University of Minnesota developed a video; Higher Ground: The Dedication of Direct Support Professionals During and After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. It is a moving tribute to dedication of this workforce and individual DSPs, who continued to support people with disabilities, even when it meant great personal sacrifice.
In the past few weeks, our nation has experienced devastating storms, in Texas, Florida and especially in Puerto Rico, where basic necessities are critically needed. Once again, examples of steadfast dedication have emerged as we begin to gather individual stories from DSPs who worked long hours, in difficult circumstances to ensure that people with disabilities were safe. This meant evacuating individuals, sometimes more than once, leaving their own homes uncertain of their condition, being separated from family members and insuring resources for the people they support. This work went on for days and is still continuing in many locations as DSPs are still in shelters or FEMA locations because their own homes were flooded. No matter what agency employs a DSP, this kind of dedication cannot be measured by a paycheck. It is not lost on me that DSP recognition week occurred right in the middle of disaster efforts and special recognitions had to be postponed in some cases because folks and their families were still struggling to find shelter and stability.
Whether we consider this profession, a “calling”, an opportunity, or a skill; recent events remind me of the critical importance of DSPs, every day, 24/7, to insure that people with disabilities have their basic needs met, housing, food, water, transportation and so many other daily things that become difficult during disasters. Today I remember that hundreds of people with disabilities are safe now because of the work of dedicated DSPs in recent weeks. So let’s take a moment to say Thank You and to celebrate the very real accomplishments of DSPs, it has made all the difference in the lives of people with disabilities.
Angela King is CEO of Volunteers of America Texas and ANCOR's Board President. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.