Author: Caleb Case

The Role of Direct Support Professionals at The Arc

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Being a DSP = A Career with Heart

“Direct Support Professional (DSP’s) are the heart of The Arc of the Ozarks.”

That’s how Outreach and Public Affairs Specialist Karen Burnell Ruff describes the role of direct support professionals in empowering people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to direct their own lives as valued members of the community.

Because DSPs are essential to fulfilling our mission, The Arc provides the training and resources they need to be successful. 

Becoming a DSP is more than just another job. It’s a rewarding career that builds lasting relationships and offers numerous opportunities for advancement. In fact, many of our managers at The Arc began their journey with us as direct support professionals.

We encourage anyone interested in becoming a DSP to apply for one of our current job openings. So what is the job description of DSP’s? Let’s look at what you can expect when you join our team as a DSP at The Arc!

A Relationship-Centered Career 

DSP playing a game with an individual with disabilities

Ibby Fryman, who has worked at The Arc for six years, says her favorite thing about working in direct care is the relationships built with clients. Fryman currently serves as a Behavioral Tech Supervisor, after initially working as a DSP.

“DSPs are there for every birthday, every sports game, every class, every good and bad day,” she says. 

Supportive DSP relationships come out of helping someone with a disability become as independent as possible without doing things for them, Ruff explains. Clients and DSPs develop a sense of trust as they navigate challenges and celebrate important milestones.

What Are the Responsibilities of a DSP?

There are no typical days in the life of a DSP, Ruff says.

That’s because all activities follow the goals set by each client. This may include, but not be limited to, assisting with medication management, nutritional meal planning, cooking, housekeeping and hygiene. 

Every day is unique, and DSP job duties are individualized to the person receiving supports. Additional roles include skills coaching, behavioral supports and crisis intervention and prevention.

Practical Skills of a Direct Support Professional

The DSP’s role “can look like anything from teaching a client how to cook their favorite meal to connecting them with groups related to their interests,” Fryman says.

Activities may include helping clients read and understand the purpose of their medications. DSPs also assist clients with setting budgets and managing money. All activities are designed to enable someone with a disability to successfully participate in activities of daily living, both at home and in their community.

Helping with Social, Emotional, and Communication Skills 

There is also a focus on promoting socially and emotionally healthy activities and life skills. Behavioral supports help clients achieve community-based goals including occupational or volunteer activities.

The DSP will model strategies for regulating emotions and impulses without harmful behaviors. This helps individuals find communication tools to express their needs more effectively. 

The biggest challenge is working with someone with behavioral issues that are stressed, overwhelmed, and escalated, according to Sarah Olson, Residential Program Supervisor, and former DSP. 

“Thankfully, The Arc provides DSPs with the training, tools, resources, and techniques that are effective methods and best practices to de-escalate those situations,” she says.

How Is DSP Work Different from a Caregiver?

It’s also important to note that providing support for individuals with disabilities is different from caregiving.

While a caregiver will do things for someone, the duties of a direct support professional includes educating, empowering, and teaching individuals to do things on their own to the highest level possible.

Although DSPs and caregivers are both responsible for clients’ wellbeing and help with daily tasks, “our role is to promote independence and teach clients how to manage their own life in any way they’re able,” says Fryman.

DSP’s are Individual-Focused

Support provided by the DSP is specific to each person, based on what is necessary for them to achieve their highest level of health, well-being, and quality of life. 

For clients with significant medical needs and those who are unable to perform many activities of daily living on their own, DSPs provide the highest level of care they require to remain safe and healthy at home and in the community.

What Training & Skills Does a DSP Need?

“I think the most important qualifications for a DSP are the ability to see our individuals served as individuals instead of their behaviors or diagnoses, and the willingness to work every day towards their goals and independence,” Fryman observes.

The DSP position exists not only to help cook and clean, but to consistently teach, support, advocate for and learn from clients.

For those interested in becoming a DSP, Olson says they need to have a desire to help the people they support. It’s essential to be compassionate, understanding and patient. The ability to think outside the box is another must.

Consider Joining The Arc as a DSP!

The Arc is a great place to work because they make sure you have all the training you need and work with you to succeed,” she notes. “They offer opportunities for growth and advancement within for those that want to.”

For Olson, the most rewarding thing about being a DSP is “being able to see the accomplishments of the individuals you support from when you first started working with them over time and knowing that what you do makes a difference.”

Are you interested in joining The Arc of the Ozarks as a direct support professional? If so, we’d love to hear from you! We invite you to apply online at any time or call us at 417-864-7887 if you have questions.

Spring Events Engage the Community While Supporting Services at The Arc

The Arc of the Ozarks is proud of our long history of supporting individuals with disabilities.

To help fulfill our mission, The Arc provides a range of services to make sure the people we serve have the resources they need. Our programs empower clients to direct their own lives and participate fully in their communities. 

We also offer many opportunities for the whole community to get involved by hosting signature fundraising events throughout the year. These events provide fun for participants while raising much-needed funding for programs that support individuals and families served by The Arc.


Celebrating 15 Years of Service: Brian Rocks Supported Employment

“Brian loves Elvis.”

So says the mother of Brian Graham, who works as a shredder in the Employment Solutions program at The Arc of the Ozarks. 

He has been to Graceland twice, she continues. During a family visit to the Memphis landmark for Brian’s 40th birthday, one of the DJs invited him to come into the radio studio. That turned out to be the highlight of the trip.

When he isn’t rocking out to his favorite music legend, Brian can be found going to different offices around Springfield to pick up paper to be shredded. He loves seeing other people working in the various businesses, and he’s especially proud of how many bags he can shred in a single shift. Brian has been working as a shredder since he began his employment back in 2006. 

Employment First Means Opportunity

Brian is very proud of having his “own” office, according to his mom. 

Through his work in the Shred and Recycling area, Brian has met several people and built positive working relationships with them. He began with a small home shredder and over the years he has grown to be an Allegheny J-45 Shredder expert.

As an Employment First organization, The Arc provides job information and guidance to Brian and other people with developmental disabilities. This empowers them to make informed career choices and achieve desired life outcomes.  

The Missouri Division of Developmental Disabilities adopted Employment First in partnership with community provider agencies like The Arc, along with individuals supported by the Division and other state and local funding agencies. Our Employment Solutions team encourages individuals to build job skills while earning a paycheck, both here at The Arc and in the community.

  • Our Shred and Recycling area employs 10 individuals, including Brian. They work hard both on location and in the community working at OTC. They spend time giving back to our community providing shred to the zoo and local pet stores.    
  • The Arc Detail Shop employs six individuals currently. Over the last year we had one individual who worked in our detail shop and moved on to work in another state! He built the confidence and skills to not only move to another state but to find competitive employment.
  • Our Food Truck is a popular supported employment opportunity. It currently employs two individuals and has had one individual move on to find his dream job here in Springfield. He learned and developed skills working on the Food Truck, and after six months was ready to find his dream job! 

The Arc also supports many individuals through Vocational Rehabilitation every year. Our Springfield, Monett, and Joplin divisions help over 100 people find jobs in their communities each year.  For example, one individual we supported through both Vocational Rehabilitation and the Department of Mental Health recently found his first job, with support from his home staff who went the extra mile to become a job coach. 

Over the past two years, Employment Solutions has worked hard to provide Supported Employment opportunities during what has been some challenging times. Our team hopes to continue to move forward and provide even greater opportunities to job seekers this year. 

Enrichment, Growth & Meaning

“We envision communities embracing those with developmental differences into their workforce and providing the opportunity to live a life they dream of,”  says Angela Johnson, Director of Community Connections and Employment Solutions. 

Employment brings enrichment, personal growth, and meaning to our lives. Those with disabilities are no different. Supported employment professionals and Employment First advocates are instrumental in breaking down barriers that may inhibit a person with a disability from achieving their employment goals and reaching their fullest potential.

Thanks to supported employment opportunities, Brian has set an example for the employment team by offering his many years of service and dedication to his job. He has one of those personalities that everyone wants to be around. He puts a smile on everyone’s faces by wiggling his eyebrows, calling his job coaches “grandmas” and, of course, through his jam sessions with Elvis.

Job coaches have even drawn straws to be able to work with him! 

During his down time, Brian spends time with his family, including his nieces and nephew. He loves going to the lake, where he enjoys boating and tubing on Table Rock and savoring a delicious slice of pizza.

At The Arc, we encourage every staff member to be an Employment First advocate. By  supporting individuals like Brian with obtaining their dream jobs, we empower more people with disabilities to direct their own lives and participate fully in our community.

Eligibility for Employment Solutions is determined by a referral from either the Department of Mental Health or Vocational Rehabilitation. If you’d like to learn more, we encourage you to call us at 417-864-7887 or reach out to us online.