Americans are excellent at honoring things.
We have a large number of holidays to honor historic figures who contributed significantly to our society (including lumping all 43 U.S. presidents into one holiday so we don’t hurt anyone’s feelings). We celebrate the good times we’ve had as a nation, like Independence Day, as well as the tragedies, such as Sept. 11 today.
Spread throughout our calendar are also some periods when we focus our attention on certain issues or groups. Some of those are well-established (Black History month in February), some obscure (Library Card Sign-up Month in September) and some downright silly (National Baked Bean month in July – I saw it on the internet, so it must be real).
Today, I want to focus our attention on a celebration that falls into that second category. The week of Sept. 11-17 is officially National Direct Support Professional Week.
Direct Support Professionals are workers who provide direct supports to people with disabilities. They are a group of unsung heroes in our communities. In honor of National DSP Week, I would like to sing their praises.
By honoring DSPs, I do not wish to imply that these are somehow saintly people who selflessly sacrifice to people who inspire pity. I think my friends and colleagues with disabilities would join me in shuddering at that approach.
Instead, what DSP week recognizes is the crucial role that DSPs play in providing support to people with disabilities who are striving to live successfully in their communities and reach important life goals. It shines light on the lack of adequate funding for DSP wages, the immense skill sets that DSPs must have or gain to creatively increase the inclusion of people with disabilities into our communities, and the important role a respectful, trusted DSP plays in the lives of the people they support.
As I write this column, 55 DSPs are currently working in Southwest Colorado with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. In order to adequately serve our communities, another eight to 10 are needed.
Our current DSP cadre includes Darren, who is bursting with ideas; Jerry, who lends a hand wherever he is needed; Charlotte, who is a strong voice for the people in her care; Janice, whose talents are limitless; Shannon, who cares even during hard times. We have Loren, who makes us laugh and makes us think; Clayton, who weathers every storm; Crystal, who might as well run Pagosa Springs; and Bret and Benay, both of whom people with intellectual disabilities practically fight to work with.
I wish I could recognize all 55 of our local DSPs here, but the Herald has other news it wishes to fit in today’s paper as well. Rest assured that each one of these people is making a difference in our community in ways you may never see.
To recognize some of these people in person, join us for a DSP celebration at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Holly House, 831 E. 31st St.
Tara Kiene is the president/CEO of Community Connections Inc.