Years ago, The Arc Carroll County began the practice of asking our stakeholders a series of questions about their level of satisfaction with our services. One of the groups that we survey is our staff members. We usually receive the highest return rate from this group. Most staff who responded commented on the positive aspects of being in a position to impact someone’s life and the joy of knowing they had a hand in being a part of someone’s accomplishments.
Some staff members expressed their interest in advancing their careers or becoming more knowledgeable about working with people with disabilities. And, most every survey included comments about staff members not feeling very “professional” when they were being paid wages that didn’t reflect the magnitude of their responsibilities and the simple fact that they were making decisions that directly impacted people’s lives. After we compiled the results, we would try and find ways to use those comments to improve our service delivery and be a better employer. I’m proud that our culture at The Arc embraces any kind of feedback and uses it to strengthen services.
One of the areas that we wanted to address in a significant way was the issues raised by our staff members about their careers and compensation. Over the years, we made small gestures that we hoped would address concerns, but it never felt like it was enough ... until now!
Two years ago, we developed an action plan. We researched and selected a learning management system that would provide the education and training to assist staff members in becoming more knowledgeable. Next, we joined The National Alliance of Direct Support Professionals, which is an organization committed to professionalizing our industry and provides a nationally recognized certification program that credentials our staff members. The next challenge was raising a significant amount of funds that would pay for the education, memberships and provide increased compensation to staff members when they attained certain education and certification levels.
I’m thrilled to report that we had hoped to launch the inaugural class with 8-10 participants. We were ecstatic (and a bit nervous) when 24 staff members applied to the program. What made this even more special was it was largely accomplished during the pandemic.
I am grateful to our staff members for taking the time to share their ideas and having patience with us as we figured our plan. I must admit, I’m feeling like a proud parent, as we celebrate our first staff member who attained DSP 1 certification, and several who are close.
The program has been named, Project RISE – Recognizing, Investing in, Support and Empower our direct support professionals. Also, thanks to the individuals we support, family members, staff members and many other donors in our community who contributed to this worthy cause. Simply, our direct support professionals deserve the best, they are often the overlooked heroes in our community. We are always looking to hire people who want to make a difference AND be recognized and compensated as a professional.
Don Rowe is the executive director of The Arc Carroll County.
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