Caring Hearts, Need Apply: How working with people with disabilities reaps rewards all around

A look at one of our changemaking clients, Iowa Developmental Disabilities Council

by Matthew Craggs

For parents seeking a work/life balance—or anyone with a caring heart—a career of helping people with disabilities can be quite rewarding. Not only do Direct Support Professionals enjoy flexible hours, they bring joy to their clients’ lives while strengthening everyone’s community.

Prior to becoming a DSP, Elizabeth “Beth” Yoerger worked as a social worker in a nursing home, but the northern Iowa resident needed a more flexible schedule to care for her son—who has severe attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

To mirror her son’s schedule, Yoerger began work at his school as a paraprofessional. It was here, working with a child with Down syndrome, that Veridian Fiscal Solutions approached Yoerger to take on that child as a client and continue the work outside the classroom.

“I would go to their house,” Yoerger says, “and do work with him. Put away dishes for mom, make the bed, and work with numbers and some of the things they’re doing with him in school.”

Often called Supportive Community Living, this aspect of a Direct Support Professional’s role largely centers on bolstering life skills, such as personal hygiene, finances and social skills. Conversely, Yoerger’s work also entails respite care, which focuses less on goals and more on spending time with the client.

From going to a park or county fair to simply being outside and picking wildflowers, respite care is not about what Yoerger and her clients do—it’s that they’re doing it together, out in their community.
Yoerger says she loves the time she spends with her clients but also knows there’s a benefit for the parents.

“You give the parents a little break,” Yoerger says, “knowing their loved one is in good hands. Someone they can trust.”

For Yoerger, the job has its own perks—such as part- or full-time flexibility and being able to bring her son along when she’s with clients. Though the satisfaction she enjoys the most is her clients’.

“To get them to smile,” Yoerger says, “when they can feel like they’re making a difference, doing something like folding a towel or stuffing an envelope, seeing the reward of getting it done.”

Admittedly, Yoerger says the job takes a lot of patience but insists the most important qualifications for a DSP is their willingness to talk, listen and enjoy the time they spend with clients.

“You just got to have a big heart,” Yoerger says, “and open it up to help the child.”

And, there it is. Direct Support Professionals—open hearts, need apply.

Read the full publication here.

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