DD Twins in Harlem

By Renee Pili, AVP, Developmental Disabilities Division

Direct Support Professionals Week is September 13-September 19. To meet some of our DSPs, make sure to follow us on social media. You can find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

The New York Foundling’s Developmental Disabilities programming has doubled in size in recent years. This growth makes me proud to work at The Foundling and shows just how powerful and committed our organization is to fulfilling needs across the community. Today, we provide Residential Housing, Community Habilitation, Day Habilitation, Employment Services, Nutritional Services, and Clinical Services to 1,000 men and women across New York City and surrounding counties.

We wouldn’t be able to do this work without our incredible team of Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) who help our program participants achieve the highest quality of life possible. Bringing love and compassion to their jobs every day, Foundling DSPs have brightened the lives of the people we serve during a year that has posed enormous challenges.

The essential and critical role our DSPs play in shaping the lives of the people we serve cannot be overstated. They do so much more than what’s in their job description. They connect with program participants on a personal level as they would with members of their own family. DSPs at The Foundling show up early and stay late. They will run to the pharmacy in the middle of the night – or drive hundreds of miles to help facilitate a family visit in another state.

In previous years, Foundling DSPs traveled with residents on vacations. One group flew to West Palm Beach, Florida for a week! Many of them had never flown on a plane before, been to the beach, experienced nightlife, or stayed in a resort. Another group of residents spent over a month and a half in a house on Lake George while their residential home was renovated, and their DSPs took two-week shifts to make it happen. The group got to enjoy the walkable lake town, watersports, mini golf, arcades, and steamboat rides. Our residents were able to have these wonderful experiences because of their DSPs’ willingness to be with them.

Most of our staff work full-time and meet with our program participants four to five days a week. Each person in our care has different needs and abilities, so our team is trained to provide a wide range of supports. Some people need 24-hour care—assistance eating, bathing, and dressing. Others may need help cooking a healthy meal, doing laundry, or maintaining friendships and relationships with others. For those seeking employment, DSPs will take them to job interviews and work with them on resume building, workplace etiquette, meeting deadlines, and travel training.

This year, when the pandemic hit, our team of DSPs educated all 1,000 program participants in mask wearing and social distancing—it has since become an ingrained part of their day-to-day routine. Many worked overtime to cover shifts when colleagues got sick—some working round the clock. A few DSPs even volunteered to transfer to a residence where residents and staff member tested positive for COVID-19, because they needed help. And staff did everything they could to keep morale up. One house manager slept at one of his rental apartments so he wouldn’t potentially infect his wife, son, and mother-in-law.

With all the time they spend together, with everything they’ve experienced this year, our Direct Support Professionals really have become like family to the men and women who call The Foundling home. For some, the DSPs are the only family and friends they have. Ironically, it’s when a person becomes less and less reliant on a DSP over time that we know we are achieving success.

Our DSPs have shown again and again that they will do whatever it takes to give the individuals in our care happy, healthy, well-rounded lives. Their generosity and their commitment know no bounds. And I am proud to call them my colleagues, now more than ever.