Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

We Are Stardust, We Are Golden: Reflections on an International Conference on Practice and Professionalism

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

We Are Stardust, We Are Golden: Reflections on an International Conference on Practice and Professionalism

Article excerpt

In June 2002, direct support professionals (DSPs) and their advocates from around the world gathered in the college town of New Paltz, NY for three days of celebration and learning. Hosted by the Mid-Hudson Coalition for the Development of Direct Care Practice and the State University of New York at New Paltz, the conference was called Common Threads. Conference participants shared the excitement that comes from being part of something very special and contributed to the synergy that occurs when great people and creative ideas come together.

The conference had a theme song, also named "Common Threads." The title suggests that like a familiar flannel comforter, human services support needs no explanation across cultures; it is global in its purpose of serving humanity. Throughout the world it is a fabric that weaves together the threads of comfort, education, hope and healing that comprise the universal language of direct support.

As the parent of a child who is struggling to move beyond the obstacles of his disability to make friends and be successful in the world, it is impossible for me to imagine how he and our family could face this often-difficult journey without the assistance of competent supporters. At the conference I traded war stories with a dad whose early experiences in bringing up his beloved but hell-raising (his description) son were remarkably similar to mine; we laughed and wished each other well. Knowing fully that our futures and the futures of many others are highly dependent on qualified direct support staff, we were both at the conference to work for a better future for us, for our loved ones with disabilities and for direct support professionals.

DSPs touch deeply the lives of the people they support. The character of this touch is shaped when the raw materials of commitment, creativity and concern are cultivated to their greatest potential and effectiveness by a combination of theory, guided practice and an ethical framework. Conversely, we endanger and devalue those who rely on direct support and betray the spirit of human service work when we fail to invest in the preparation and recognition of DSPs.

This was the situation in South Africa before Nelson Mandela was elected, explained keynote speaker Lesley DuToit, the former special advisor to the Minister of Welfare in the Mandela government. DuToit described the horrors of a national social service system that had institutionalized--warehoused--most at-risk children, neglecting them and providing no support. Mandela, DuToit and others reformed this system through a philosophy of the native American Lakhota tribe. Called the Circle of Courage, it promotes a focus on the characteristics of generosity, mastery, independence and belonging. DuToit described how workers helped transform the lives of children in this system by using these guiding principles and the strategy of focusing on one child at a time. What a remarkable opportunity to make a difference in the lives of South African youth!

At a session presented by the National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals (NADSP), a voluntary, national coalition that advocates for improving the conditions of direct support work in the United States, members invited workshop participants to describe the meaning that they find in their work. Many people at this session, and throughout the conference, described human service work as a gift of the spirit, noting how much they receive from the people they support and how great it feels to make a difference in someone's life. …

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