Vermont Care Partners, Green Mountain Self-Advocates, and the Vermont Developmental Disabilities Council gathered on the State House lawn to honor Vermont’s direct support professionals on Sept. 12. DSPs assist people with developmental, intellectual, and psychiatric disabilities.

A trade association, Vermont Care Partners represents the nonprofits contracted by the Department of Mental Health and the Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living to provide services across the state. Recently, these agencies have struggled to fill job openings, and the event in Montpelier gave administrators and state officials (including Lieutenant Governor David Zuckerman) a chance to publicize what they characterized as opportunities for meaningful, satisfying careers, while also pushing the state to budget for pay increases for DSPs.

Before long, however, these speakers passed the microphone to the agencies’ clients, who testified to the value that DSPs bring to their lives.

Vermonters with developmental disabilities make up the leadership and membership of Green Mountain Self-Advocates, which, according to its mission statement, serves to “educate peers to take control over their own lives, make decisions, solve problems, and speak for themselves.” One of the group’s officers, Hassan Koh, described his DSP, Judy, as an ally in that struggle.

“She is always with me about what I want to do. And I still remember what she helped me with, and also helping to understand what kind of dream I want to have, and also she’s always making sure I know what’s best for me,” Koh said.

Koh then opened the podium to audience members, who came forward to share their own stories. More than a dozen verbal testimonies bolstered a nearby display of flags illustrated by clients to pay tribute to their DSPs.

“Direct support staff are so amazing. They help us with whatever we need. In fact, my direct support staff helps me at work or taking me on trips. She also works with me on my goals. If I seem to be struggling with something, she will help,” one speaker said.

“Sometimes it can be like family, helping us out as best they can while still letting us take our bigger steps up in the community,” another added.

“This is to my DSP, Lisa. She’s always willing to listen and she’s always willing to help me when I’m in trouble. Thank you, Lisa,” a client said.

DSPs themselves also talked about their experiences on the job. Gloria Quinn, the executive director of Upper Valley Services, previously spent years in the role.

 “I fell in love with the people that we worked with,” she recalled. “I fell in love with the challenges and the triumphs and transformation that I saw happen on a day-to-day basis. I fell in love with the social justice. I fell in love with the social inclusion. I fell in love with everything, and it changed my life forever.”

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