Throughout the year, my colleagues and I find ourselves in awe of all that is made possible in communities across the country thanks to direct support professionals (DSPs). Whether helping people navigate romantic relationships, exercise their voting rights, improve their performance at work, or any number of other life-enriching activities, DSPs play a significant role in helping communities across the US be more inclusive of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD).
Quite simply, DSPs deserve more support and recognition for the important work they do. To that end, we know that every day is a good day to celebrate DSPs, but we think the holiday season and the start of a new year are an especially opportune moment to lift up the incredible workforce that fuels community inclusion for people with I/DD all year long.
To help get your creative juices flowing, here are three easy ideas for using the spirit of this season to uplift the direct support workforce.
Work with Your Local Press to Raise Awareness about the Workforce
The work DSPs do is valuable all the time, but can be especially so during the holiday season. Many of us may not have family to spend the season with or may struggle with the grief that comes with the loss of a loved one around the holidays. Those challenges can be especially hard for the people supported by ANCOR members, and DSPs are sometimes the only family people have during this time of year.
A great way to raise awareness about the important roles played by DSPs during this time of year is to write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper or other news outlet to share how DSPs play a unique role in the lives of the people you support.
If you’ve never written a letter to the editor, it’s important to know that it doesn’t have to be a heavy lift! Letters to the editor are typically 150-250 words in length, can be submitted online and, depending on the news outlet, can be relatively easy to place as long as you voice an interesting or unique perspective.
To get started, simply visit the website of your local news outlet. From there, you can review letters to the editor from others to glean a sense of the types of messages that are common, find guidelines for things like maximum word count, and determine how to submit your letter. If you get stuck and would like some support, don’t hesitate to reach out—a member of ANCOR’s Communications team would be happy to help!
Use Social Media to Amplify Your Holiday Celebrations
If you work for an organization that delivers services to people with I/DD, chances are you already have plans to celebrate the holidays with your DSPs, your other colleagues, and perhaps even the people you support. These celebrations aren’t just a good time for people to come together—they’re also a great opportunity to show others in your community why you have cause to celebrate!
If you have a holiday party coming up for your colleagues or the people your agency supports, be sure to snap some photos—group photos and candid ones are both ideal—and save them in a location where others can contribute their photos as well, such as on your company’s shared drive or in a shared album on Google Photos. If you already hosted your holiday party and forgot to take any photos, there’s a good chance others got some great shots. Ask around and see what you come up with.
From there, share some of your favorites on social media, along with captions that express why you’re grateful for the DSPs in your life this time of year. Maybe one of the DSPs on your team invited the two men she supports to celebrate the first night of Hannukah with her family so they could experience a new tradition for the first time. Perhaps one of the DSPs on your team supported someone to plan a Christmas vacation with family members she hadn’t seen in two years. Maybe a DSP you know helped organize a community service project that enabled your organization to give back to the community in a meaningful way.
Whatever the case may be, sharing these stories is a great way to inform or remind people about the important work that we do as a community of providers.
Encourage People to Establish and Share Their New Year’s Resolutions
One of the things I love about this time of year is the promise of new beginnings it offers. Come January 1, we’re all thinking about how we can be better versions of ourselves. And, if you’re a DSP, you’re likely thinking not only about goals you can set for yourself, but also about how you can empower the people you support to set and achieve their own goals.
Whereas we often make New Year’s Resolutions quietly and keep them to ourselves, encouraging people employed and supported by your organization to share their New Year’s Resolutions with one another can be great fodder for success stories to track throughout the year. The people you support may share their aspirations to go to bed earlier, get a new job, find a boyfriend, play basketball more often, learn sign language, or drink more water.
No matter what they aspire to, it’s almost inevitable that the people you support will make good on their resolutions with the support of a DSP. And telling the story of how that DSP supported the person to achieve their goal—whether that story is told at community events, on social media or in the local press—is a fantastic way to raise awareness about the crucial roles DSPs play in the lives of people with I/DD.
The Bottom Line
No matter what your plans are this holiday season, we hope you’ll take a moment to thank your direct support professionals for all they do, both during this special time of year but also all year long.
Sean Luechtefeld, Ph.D., CAE, is Vice President for Membership & Communications at ANCOR.