ANCOR in the News - 03.31.22

Penn-Mar Human Services’ Maria Swift to be Honored as ANCOR’s 2022 Direct Support Professional of the Year

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Maryland professional joins 50 others being honored for delivering services that empower community inclusion of people with intellectual, developmental disabilities

Maria Swift, 2022 National DSP of the Year

ALEXANDRIA, VA. – Maria Swift, a direct support professional (DSP) based in Westminster, Md., has been named the 2022 Direct Support Professional of the Year by ANCOR, a leading national trade association representing providers of community-based services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). Swift will be honored alongside 50 other DSPs in an awards presentation in Miami, Fla., at ANCOR’s 2022 Annual Conference on Wednesday, April 13.

Swift, who has worked for Freeland, Md.-based Penn-Mar Human Services for the past three and a half years, was selected for the national honor because of her innovative approaches to delivering services that enable the people leveraging her support to enjoy fuller access to their community.

According to her nomination letter, Swift’s “foresight and innovation parallels—and often exceeds—the work of even her most seasoned colleagues.” Swift’s nomination materials went on to offer several examples, such as her approach to supporting people with I/DD to visit the local YMCA. A favorite activity as it connects the men and women Swift supports with the opportunity to meet new people and establish healthy exercise habits, their ability to continue visiting the YMCA was complicated by challenges they experienced in remembering which lockers they used. To ensure the people she supports could continue taking advantage of this opportunity to become healthier and connect with others in the community, Swift purchased magnetic letters and encouraged the people she supports to put them on their lockers, making it easier to remember where they stored their personal item.

Another example in Swift’s nomination spoke to how the Penn-Mar Human Services employee has supported individuals with dementia to create their own daily schedules. To support this task, Swift captured and printed photos of each person completing common tasks, and then worked with them to add the photos to their daily itineraries. This not only made it easier for them to remember what each task involved, but also preserved access to the opportunities to make choices about how to spend their days.

“Whether it’s something as simple as helping people go to the gym or as complex as ensuring they have the opportunity to make their own choices about where and how to spend their time, direct support professionals like Maria Swift are proof-positive of the crucial roles this workforce plays in communities across the country,” said Heidi Mansir, president of ANCOR’s Board of Directors and executive director of Uplift, Inc., a disability service provider based in Gardiner, Maine. “ANCOR is proud to celebrate Maria and the 50 other professionals who comprise the 2022 class of outstanding honorees.”

Barbara Merrill, chief executive officer for ANCOR, added: “This is the sixteenth consecutive year ANCOR has presented the Direct Support Professional of the Year Awards, and the third class to have been honored since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although we’ve been saying it for three years now, the challenges presented by the pandemic have collided with a recruitment and retention crisis in our workforce to wreak previously unthinkable havoc on our system of home- and community-based supports. For that reason, there’s never been a more poignant time to celebrate people like Maria [Swift] and the more than four dozen other DSPs who exemplify excellence in our field.”

The dynamics described by Merrill have resulted from decades of underinvestment in the Medicaid program—underinvestment that has been further exacerbated by the public health emergency. Low pay has led to 44 percent turnover rates and 12 percent vacancy rates among full-time direct support positions nationally, according to the latest data from National Core Indicators. Together, these factors have combined to make it nearly impossible for providers to attract and retain a sufficient number of qualified direct care workers.

The 2022 Direct Support Professional of the Year Awards will be presented in a ceremony underwritten by ANCOR Diamond Partner Relias on Wednesday, April 13 from 2:30-4 pm EDT at ANCOR’s 2022 Annual Conference in Miami, Fla. The full list of honorees to be recognized is below. Members of the press interested in attending the awards presentation should contact Sean Luechtefeld, ANCOR’s senior director for communications, at [email protected] or 571.207.9108.


National Direct Support Professional of the Year

Maria Swift, Penn-Mar Human Services, Westminster, Md.


Special Category Award Recipients

Innovation: Cheyenne Rice, Chrysalis, Cedar City, Utah

Leadership: Brett Breeze, Boundless, Englewood, Ohio

Person-Centeredness: Bruce Thomas, Families First of Southern Vermont, Whitingham, Vt.

Relationships: Lakiesha Johnson, Hope House Foundation, Portsmouth, Va.


State Direct Support Professional of the Year Award Recipients

Alabama: Tina Cox, Sevita, Cullman

Alaska: Christina Carlberg, Independent Direct Support Professional, Ketchikan

Arizona: Junior Tarwo, BrightSpring Health Services, Phoenix

Arkansas: Nick Bryant, Van Buren County Special School, Clinton

California: Francisco Lemus, Dungarvin, South Gate

Colorado: John “Jonny” Nelson, Dungarvin, Colorado Springs

Connecticut: Sandra Strilkauskas, Aspire Living & Learning, Waterbury

Delaware: Ruby Mills, Mosaic, Wilmington

Florida: Sherry Ellis, BrightSpring Health Services, Port Richey

Georgia: Temeake Lowe, RHA Health Services, Hephzibah

Idaho: Jon Ball, BrightSpring Health Services, Dalton Gardens

Illinois: Veronica Lea, Trinity Services, Crest Hill

Indiana: Susia Bennett, BrightSpring Health Services, Cambridge City

Iowa: Teresa Mueller, Goodwill of the Heartland, Iowa City

Kansas: Latoya Whitted-Witcher, BrightSpring Health Services, Fort Riley

Kentucky: Stephanie Newton, Dungarvin, Mount Sterling

Louisiana: Alechia Randle, BrightSpring Health Services, Lafayette

Maine: Leah McAlpine, OHI, Glenburn

Maryland: Tammy Wright, Consumer Direct Care Network, Waldorf

Massachusetts: Rachel Nicola-Jefferson, Berkshire County Arc, Pittsfield

Michigan: Emily Conant, BrightSpring Health Services, Chesaning

Minnesota: Staranne Dauer, Dungarvin, Waldorf

Mississippi: Tiffany Turner, Sevita, Water Valley

Missouri: Michael Guess, Emmaus Homes, Troy

Nebraska: Cindy Hartig, Mosaic, Beatrice

Nevada: Scarlet Cabral, Dungarvin, Las Vegas

New Hampshire: Josh Matero, Aspire Living & Learning, Hampton

New Jersey: Angel DeJesus, BrightSpring Health Services, Maple Shade

New Mexico: Lillian Jim, Dungarvin, Waterflow

New York: Jennifer Herron, The Resource Center, Sinclairville

North Carolina: Florence Melvin, Dungarvin, Fayetteville

Ohio: Stanley Adu-Gyamfi, Dungarvin, Columbus

Oklahoma: Sheri Harris, Dungarvin, Paul’s Valley

Oregon: Miranda Baugh, Community Support Services, Keizer

Pennsylvania: Brittany Brunson, Delta Community Supports, Philadelphia

Rhode Island: David Asiedu, Community Living of Rhode Island, Narragansett

South Carolina: Dawanda Brown, Dalington County Disabilities & Special Needs Board, Hartsville

South Dakota: Hau Quan, Aspire, Inc., Aberdeen

Tennessee: Edward Copeland, Emory Valley Center, Oak Ridge

Texas: Isabel Diaz, BrightSpring Health Services, Santa Rosa

Utah: Collin Saltern, Chrysalis, Providence

Vermont: Liza Bothfeld, Green Mountain Support Services, Hyde Park

Virginia: Madison Landmesser, Volunteers of America Chesapeake & Carolinas, Woodbridge

Washington: Shannon Ramsey, Northwest Center Kids, Burien

West Virginia: Stephana Wilcox, Sevita, Mason

Wisconsin: Laura Nelson, Dungarvin, Reedsburg




For more than 50 years, the American Network of Community Options and Resources ( has been a leading advocate for the critical role service providers play in enriching the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). As a national nonprofit trade association, ANCOR represents nearly 2,000 organizations employing more than a half-million professionals who together serve more than a million individuals with I/DD. Our mission is to advance the ability of our members to support people with I/DD to fully participate in their communities.