A Day in the Life of a Support Staff
Written by Amanda Maier
If you ever get a chance to hear someone speak about Aspire and what they do, you will hear them talk about our Direct Support Professionals (DSP’s) and what an amazing job they do. It’s all true. But there is also a less talked about group of people at Aspire that make a huge impact on Aspire and they are our Administrative/Support Staff. They make up 14% of the employees at Aspire and they do just what this suggests – they SUPPORT our DSP’s. Each support staff has a different role from custodians to our Executive Director but each person is vital to creating an environment that enables our DSP’s to provide the best services possible.
I interviewed several of our support staff about their days. The resounding response is that there is no typical day at Aspire. Even though most of the support staff positions are office jobs there is still so much variation and unpredictability in their days. “Sometimes that’s exciting as it switches up the routine, and other times it’s stressful because it usually means some type of crisis,” says Jennifer Gray, Executive Director. “So what’s my typical day like? If you were to ask my kids (and some staff), they would say that I attend a LOT of meetings. And that would be mostly accurate. Meetings for us are largely a communication tool about what’s going on, identifying the status of a project, initiative or strategic effort. Other than informational purposes, meetings serve as brainstorming sessions to make and implement decisions.”
While many of our support staff spends time in meetings to help determine the best course of action some of them spend very little time doing office work. Jon Roberson, Maintenance Supervisor described his day: “I get in a 8 o’clock in the morning and do paperwork until about nine and then from 9 to 4 we’re out doing things at the houses or here at the center. We are constantly working on something all day long, plumbing, electrical, patching walls, yardwork, etc. Any emergency, a pipe bursting or air conditioning going down on an 80 degree day, that’s a priority.”
The day to day tasks of support staff can be overwhelming and isolating but our Support Staff make an effort to stay engaged with people at Aspire through committees or events. Many of them got their start with Aspire as DSP’s, which has led them to be passionate about what they do. When I asked Meranda Leidholdt, Director of Human Resources about why she works for Aspire, she said, “I love what the agency stands for and what we do. I work in a position that can be very stressful. There are days that I feel as if I get nothing accomplished but I never go home with work on my mind and I feel that is simply due to my coworkers and the environment. The service that the agency provides is very serious and necessary but we have fun doing it. I never dread coming to work. It feels like a second family and support network. Everyone is always more than willing to help each other out and step in when needed.”
“Honestly what makes it all worth it is seeing the people we support and the staff interactions. To be a part of something that is so unique and beautiful is overwhelming. Even seeing the smallest interactions between staff and people supported is heartwarming and joyous. Knowing that every person who works here whether they are Direct support staff or not all play a very huge part in making people’s lives worth living. “
But being passionate about what they do doesn’t make everything perfect. There can be misunderstandings about the role of a support staff. Arlette Keller, Director of Quality Assurance said it best, “I don’t sit in my office and make things up to make a DSP’s job harder. I have been a DSP and I get it. Part of my job is to make changes to processes because of changes in the South Dakota Rules and Regulations, Aspire policies and CQL requirements to ensure we stay certified.”
Each day brings its own challenges and the desire to change things for the better. Janae Hamilton is our Foundation Development Director and she works every day to spread the word about who we are at Aspire and what we do. She also coordinates all of the fundraising efforts of the Aspire Foundation. When I asked Janae what she would change about her job she said, “I wish everyone knew what a great job I have! I have no problems going out and letting people know what a great place Aspire is, because I truly believe in what we do because I have been a part of almost every department over the years. There are some days when it is frustrating to be the only person in my department; I like to bounce ideas off others. I am confident that eventually there will be additional staff in this department!! I am grateful for Jennifer and our awesome Foundation Board Members, I couldn’t do it without them!”
“I am proud to lead an organization of people who really make a difference in people’s lives. The people with disabilities who we support, and their families, rely on Aspire to be there. While some days I miss providing direct supports (I too started as a DSP) and the connections that develop when you serve that role, I feel my calling has grown to another level of making a difference, as I work with board members, state department staff, state legislators, and even national associations to help drive an agenda that I believe in, and make a difference at a level that can hopefully influence the future of our service-system.” ~Jennifer Gray.