Direct support professionals (DSPs)—those members of HopeWell’s staff who work with adults in our residential homes and five staffed apartments—are integral to carrying out our mission to enrich the lives and expand the opportunities of individuals and families in need of love, support and safe places to grow and thrive. HopeWell is pleased and proud to recognize and celebrate the 26 DSPs on our staff during National Direct Support Professional Recognition Week, Sept. 13-19.
These essential workers are the folks who are there 24/7 to assist adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities in living as independently as possible. Every day, HopeWell’s DSPs share in the joys and challenges of helping residents master important tasks of daily life including using public transportation, shopping, and money management. They empower and encourage our residents to make their own decisions about where and with whom to live, the type of job they want, and how much support they need to live life on their own terms, achieve their dreams, and be active in their communities.
HopeWell DSP Wakeelaa Evan has described her work in a way that we love: “they’re human and they should be treated equally,” she said.
“Give them what a normal person’s life would be like. Just because they have special needs, you don’t take away [from them],” Wakeelaa added. “You still offer: what do you want do today? Where do you wanna go? What do you want to eat? And you’ll be amazed at the reactions you get back.”
Indeed. In the past year, talented and caring DSPs like Wakeelaa have made possible weekend getaways to Cape Cod and Maine for our residents, where they enjoyed beaches, fresh seafood and ice cream, shopping, and other activities. Last Thanksgiving, HopeWell DSPs Kerry Ann Black and Lydia Lovemore prepared a delicious holiday feast for residents of our Mt. Vernon Community home, who piled plates with turkey, ham, rice and beans, veggies, and delicious desserts.
DSPs also ensure the presence of a safe environment for our residents, which was particularly critical when the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year. We have written before about how HopeWell DSPs went above and beyond what was required of them in order to keep our residents safe, despite the risks to their own health. HopeWell remains grateful for the care they continue to take on behalf of our residents’ health and safety as the pandemic wears on.
We’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: HopeWell DSPs do this work because of the love they have for our residents.
But love doesn’t put food on the table, put a roof over one’s head, or make student loan payments. As this recent Commonwealth magazine op-ed by some of our professional colleagues points out, DSPs are among the lowest-paid employees in Massachusetts, with median wages of $27,376, compared with $40,557 for all Massachusetts workers in 2018. That is simply not a livable wage, particularly for the many DSPs with college degrees and student loan debt.
DSPs need and deserve to earn more money for the essential and difficult work they do. While HopeWell offers competitive wages and benefits that include student loan pay down assistance, it remains difficult to fill positions in a field suffering from COVID-19 burnout. Now especially, we must ensure that this workforce is robust and is adequately compensated for their work of caring for our most vulnerable family members and friends no matter the circumstances.
We’re grateful to our colleagues and fellow advocates for raising this important issue and calling on our legislature “to make a long-term, structural investment in the human services sector to enable livable wages and help our essential staff with their significant educational debt.” This is the right thing to do and we urge lawmakers to work to correct this pressing problem.
Throughout the week, we’ll be celebrating our DSPs on our social media channels for their dedication, professionalism, and commitment to helping people living with disabilities fulfill their potential and lead safe, joyful lives. We hope you’ll join us in recognizing these extraordinary employees. If you’re not already, please follow us on Facebook, Twitter, or Linkedin.