Soft music plays in the background. Bright sunlight filters through the large windows. Canvasses and sculptures adorn the walls in Alpha Resource Center’s Art Studio.
Artists with unique styles work independently while their direct support staff encourages them with different media and supplies to express themselves artistically. Jeff is working with linocut prints (carved blocks of linoleum that he carves himself). Although simple, the work is stunning.
“I might make greeting cards or put them in a series. I haven’t decided yet,” he says.
In contrast to the black and white print work is Jane’s artistry, full of vivid colors and playful themes reflecting her personality.
“Yes, may I help you?” she says with a smile. I glance at her current piece, a bright, lively depiction of a home, landscape and smiling pets, carefully drawn with colored pencil. Next to her is a table with a variety of objects for use in collage work. There were endless possibilities for creativity and a relaxed air of acceptance in the room.
This atmosphere was provided by the Direct Support Professionals, who facilitate the program.
Direct Support Professionals are people who work directly with people with developmental disabilities with the aim of assisting the individual to lead self-directed lives, become integrated into his community, and contribute to it in meaningful ways. A DSP must be creative, patient, respectful, nurturing, and have a great sense of humor. A DSP must be a nurse, a financial adviser, a coach, a driver, a personal attendant, a friend. Most of all, a DSP must want to contribute to the lives of others.
The Alpha Resource Center employs more than 40 DSPs who support the Teen Recreation, Adult Services and Children and Family Services programs. These direct support professionals embody all of the above and more.
Tina, the woman who works in Art Studio, exemplifies what it takes to be a DSP. In the art studio, she creates the environment for the artists to express themselves. She encourages them to use their talents and provides an outlet for that to happen. She works alongside them as a mentor might, cheering them on and offering support in the form of suggestions.
This is the foundation of the work of a DSP. Regardless of the activity, the DSP gives the participant the opportunity to choose the way they spend their time and helps them develop their skills through the activity. The DSP asks the participant about his interests and then provides opportunities to pursue them. The individuals who participate in Alpha’s programs want to volunteer in the community, have a job, go fishing or for a hike, or pursue an artistic endeavor, as described above. DSPs help them to share in regular daily life and support our community by bringing people with unique talents into it.
DSPs are remarkable. They have extraordinary patience and compassion. Their work gives them tremendous opportunities for learning, growth, and fun. “Unplanned zaniness” is how one DSP describes the best part of the job. There are plenty of amusing stories and experiences that make work a joy. Tina sums it up. “It’s truly gratifying to know that I am playing a role in making someone else’s life better. They teach me to appreciate every joy that comes my way.”
Click here for more stories from Direct Support Professionals.
Art from Alpha’s Art Studio is available for sale and will be shown at AlphaFest on Oct. 6.
— Marisa Pasquini for the Alpha Resource Center.