After having worked in the fastfood industry, Amairani Rosas, a sixteen-year-old high school junior, came across an ad for a Direct Support Professional (DSP) position at LBSA. She wasn’t sure what to expect, but “I knew that I wanted to try something different.” After graduating high school, Joseph Flores worked for a number of years in retail and banking before joining LBSA as a DSP. “I have always liked helping others and I have wanted to do this type of work, but I never had the guts to.” After speaking with a friend familiar with LBSA, he decided to give it a try. Starting any new job can be nervewracking. Especially work you have no experience doing and that carries a lot of responsibility. “I was pretty intimidated on my first day.” Amairani acknowledged. “But Grace (mentor and lead staff Grace Neuroth-Casson) did a very good job of helping me feel comfortable.” Joseph described similar feelings heading into his first shift. “I was scared at the beginning. I didn’t really know what to expect with not knowing the clients yet.” For Joseph the anxiety quickly disappeared as the residents asked him a “ton of questions, like what T.V. shows I like and what I liked to eat.” DSPs are the backbone of organizations like LBSA, providing the essential, individualized support that people with developmental disabilities need in order to have an opportunity to thrive.
The work that Amairani and Joseph do is complicated and requires managing a wide variety of responsibilities. Duties can include providing behavioral support, managing meals, household chores, documenting, communicating with other staff and guardians, frequently making decisions with people, about their lives, passing medications, coordination of appointments, transportation and facilitating recreational activities. Amairani and Joseph are new to LBSA, having been hired in the last six months, and join the organization at a critical time. Maintaining adequate staffing levels has always been challenging for intellectual and developmental disability (I/DD) service providers, especially in the last 20 years. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these challenges. In September 2020, the staffing crisis came to a head for LBSA. As client’s day and work programs closed due to safety protocols, LBSA was faced with adding 13 full-time positions to support clients during daytime shifts. Competing against higher wages and COVIDrelated childcare issues added to staffing challenges. As a result, LBSA made the difficult decision in September to temporarily consolidate our five Oak Street campus cottages down to two to ensure the safety and well-being of our clients. During this transition, the LBSA administrative team and board of trustees implemented a plan to recruit and retain employees. The plan included raising our wage scale for new and existing staff who provide direct support at a cost of $216,000 annually. In November, LBSA received a generous grant from Northfield Shares to help with additional staffing costs but will need to raise more money each year to fund that added expense. Since September, LBSA has focused on recruiting and has been fortunate to find talented new employees like Amairani and Joseph to join our team.
Even though Amairani and Joseph are new to their roles and the work is often challenging and complex, they both agree that the work is rewarding. Joseph says it’s fun coming to work each day. “They (the three young women Joseph supports) have the best vibe. They are always happy and cheerful.” He adds that the clients have also taught him a lot. “I am amazed at how motivated they are with being healthy. They’re always eating vegetables. Now I do too.” He chuckles, “They are rubbing off on me.” Amairani appreciates being able to share in successes with the clients she works with. “There are many rewards that come with the job. Just knowing that I am helping someone have a better life. Seeing them flourish.” She says fun, surprising moments happen every day. “This morning we played a short round of tag in the living room. So many giggles. I said ‘Wow, you are really fast.’” Amairani says spontaneous moments like these contribute to her enjoyment of her work. “I hope to be doing this for a long time.”