Our Community’s Unsung Heroes

Options for all

A vibrant community recognizes police officers, firefighters and EMTs as the visible hands and feet of the organizations they represent – and rightfully so. After all, these first responders often put themselves in harm’s way for the betterment of all. Perhaps lesser known, Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) across San Diego, the state of California, and the country also spend their days working to better their communities. However, their front line is quite different. DSPs strive to create opportunities for some of our communities’ most excluded – individuals with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (I/DD).

Locally, the I/DD community is served by a variety of organizations. Some focus on adults, others on children, and others yet on specific kinds of disorders. Yet collectively, they own plenty of common ground. For instance, they offer paths toward independence, self-sufficient living, vocational skills building, self-expression, employment, recreation or behavioral support. And they all rely on the DSPs to connect program offerings with a client’s individual goals. That means the DSP toolbox is filled with creative ways to emphasize empowerment, participation, partnerships and supportive relationships. Over time, the DSP helps connect each client’s unique gifts, preferences and needs to live a rich, fulfilling life.

To understand how a successful coupling of a client’s gifts and goals looks, consider the work of the talented DSPs at Options For All. OFA is a California 501(c) 3 non-profit organization dedicated to creating and supporting opportunities for adults with I/DD. Over time, clients and DSPs working together have realized one success story after another. For example, one client published a book, Strike Dragon: The Last of the Light, and another found employment as a digital media editor at Cox Communications. Some clients have transitioned from living in group homes to living independently while mastering life skills. One client even forged a path from working as an administrative assistant to serving as a DSP!

But for a glimpse into the workday world, consider the thoughts of Direct Support Professionals Janette Ortega and Jessica Breceda of Options For All, as expressed in a recent interview:

What makes your work rewarding?
Ortega: “When a task is learned, even something as simple as crossing the street, it makes me feel happy. Everyone processes information in a different way. When uncomfortable, one client habitually spoke out, ‘Oh [explicative]!’ When they learned to replace that with ‘Oh, man!’ I felt proud.”

Breceda: “It’s not the big things that stand out, but the little ones. Seeing clients progress toward their goals and knowing you’ve helped is a good feeling. And when they become safe and comfortable with you and other clients, and know they’re valued – that’s rewarding.”

So when you see Janette, Jessica, or any of their DSP colleagues and clients volunteering at the YMCA, working at the San Diego Zoo, or enjoying a day at the beach, give them a warm “thank you” or a friendly wave. Let them know they are appreciated!

Learn more about Options For All, Direct Support Professionals, and how to become one by visiting www.OptionsForAll.org/DSP.

author avatar
Esteban Villanueva