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Nonprofit View: Thank a direct support professional

Carroll County is fortunate to have many nonprofit organizations that provide an array of services to people that need assistance. Most people living in our community can relate to these organizations, simply because something that has happened to them, another family member, neighbor or co-worker that has caused the interaction or need for assistance.

Every day in Carroll County, hundreds of our fellow citizens are being supported by direct support professionals, who deliver valuable and needed services. Examples include counseling for an addiction, supporting someone with a disability on their first day of work, tube feeding someone who has difficulty swallowing, providing crisis management to someone who is having a bad day, transporting someone to a physician's appointment or helping someone figure out their weekly budget.

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Yes, the direct support professionals who work in our community are caring, dedicated, committed and truly vital to every organization. Their contributions make a difference in people's lives. And, they are underpaid. For most direct support professionals, the pay is $10 to $14 per hour, which is below a living wage and communicates a message that society places a low value on their contributions.

Many of our direct support professionals work multiple jobs to make ends meet. Many more go home after their shifts to care for members of their immediate family: children, parent and grandparents.

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What is the value of someone who changes someone's life? What is the value of someone who makes critical decisions every day regarding someone's quality of life? What is the value of someone who supports for the most vulnerable people in our communities? Hopefully more than what is being paid today by many organizations.

Most nonprofit organizations receive some, if not most of their funding from state and local governments. The reimbursement rate structure is currently slightly higher than minimum wage. Factor in rising health insurance and other employer-related costs and that percentage decreases. Because of nonprofits inability to adequately compensate direct care professionals, the turnover in the industry is at an alarming rate; and getting worse. Recruiting talented direct care professionals at current rates is extremely challenging.

So, what is happening is almost the perfect storm in the nonprofit industry. More people are applying for services, the oversight and scrutiny by state and federal agencies is high, the workforce has become less educated over the last 20 years, and funding favors people who have more capabilities and don't get sick. Consequently, there are less people entering the workforce as direct support professionals.

No one likes to be taxed more than absolutely necessary, and no one likes to spend more money than necessary. It does take an appropriate level of funding to support people who are vulnerable or need help. Societies are often defined by how they care for their most vulnerable citizens. In our community, most of the nonprofits dedicate most of their funds to direct service. Most organizations operate at 15 percent overhead (which is good) and many are under 10 percent. One of the best investments, along with education and public safety is our nonprofit community and our direct support professionals.

So, if you know a direct support professional, thank them for what they do.

Don Rowe, Mike Shriver, Tom Zirpoli and Mike Hardesty are the executive directors of The Arc of Carroll County; CHANGE, Inc.; Target Community and Educational Services; and Flying Colors of Success, respectively.

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