This week is Direct Support Professional Recognition Week, recognizing the hard work of direct support professionals (DSPs) everywhere, including for the assistants in our own community. We are full of gratitude for our assistants! Without assistants, “we wouldn’t be able to do the things that we do, we wouldn’t be able to be who we are today,” says Luke Smith, Community Leader and Executive Director of L’Arche GWDC.
Assistants provide direct support to core members in L’Arche homes. Some assistants live in the homes, some “live out.” All of them use their immense talents, creativity, and thoughtfulness to provide high quality care with core members. Most importantly, they are part of mutually transformative relationships with core members and teammates, growing together both individually and as a community. As Charles Clark, core member at 6th Street house says about assistant family members, “they’re great!” He also mentioned “We all help each other.”
Penny Everline has worked with L’Arche GWDC for many years as our Arlington Support Coordinator. She finds that “the assistants at L’Arche really get to know the individuals/core members they support– bringing a whole new level to person-centeredness that I suspect cannot be achieved under other residential program models. I cannot say enough good things about the L’Arche assistants. As a Support Coordinator, I trust and respect them immensely. I know they have the best interest of the individuals we support at heart.”
Being an assistant at L’Arche means being invited into belonging, says Alfonso “Sito” Sasieta. Sito has been an assistant on and off at L’Arche since 2014. Being an assistant/direct support professional is not a hands-off job. A DSP is going to be helping the people they serve with physically close tasks, such as brushing teeth or getting dressed for the day. Assistants will often be present during core members’ difficult and joyous moments. “In a L’Arche home it’s a very intimate space, we’re very close to one another physically and emotionally, and we share a lot,” Sito explains. “Sometimes it can be emotionally challenging just to stay open, to stay connected, to be willing to grieve and mourn and be with other people’s pain, but also to say yes to other people’s joy.” But “if we allow ourselves to be known and loved, like, the invitation is so often there, not just every day but in multiple moments in a routine, we are always being invited in…”
Mary Forbes came to L’Arche GWDC after two years at a L’Arche community in California. For her, it’s been joyful “seeing growth in other people and also myself.” Being an assistant has changed her life; “I’ve learned how to slow down” noticing that “things don’t have to get done on my time.”
Assistants come to L’Arche GWDC from many different backgrounds, from recent college graduates who studied theology, to people who have been direct support professionals for a decade. Some assistants go on to study medicine and others write poetry, says Eva-Elizabeth Chisholm, Human Services Leader at L’Arche GWDC. Eva-Elizabeth is impressed by the wide array of assistants and their “openness to self discovery… and encounter with core members and team members.”
For parents seeking a home for their children, direct support professionals can make or break a decision. Paula DeRoy recalls the concept of living in a group home like L’Arche “felt awkward” at first. But after her daughter Kelly moved into L’Arche GWDC Paula found that L’Arche “exceeded our expectations of our daughter living in a loving home and a stimulating environment.” She explains that “The biggest surprise at L’Arche is the talent and uniqueness of the assistants. The compassion and interests they bring to the community make it a vibrant, lively, engaging environment. It is a terrible understatement to say that they are a very special group of people.”
Direct support professional roles are ones of flexibility, with every day facing something new and maybe challenging. Never has that been more true than with the COVID-19 pandemic. Assistants at L’Arche faced the sudden change of going from core members attending work and day programs to needing to provide a full day of at home support and activities. It was a shock, to say the least. “It’s going to be like months of snow days,” Eva-Elizabeth recalls feeling.
Yet assistants stepped up to the challenge in every way possible. “Our mission is still thriving in the middle of a weird 18 months, and that to me is a large part due to assistants who said yes, our work is the mission. Whether we are wearing masks or not, whether a day program is open or not,” says Eva-Elizabeth. “Continuing to come to work when you yourself might be nervous or afraid or uncertain about this very scary unknown unpredictable illness..I don’t take that for granted. There have been so many sacrifices assistants have made to continue to show up.”
For Mary, the time at home during COVID “encouraged me to get creative” with how they connect, communicate, and find community outside of the home. Luke is deeply impressed with how assistants have been creative throughout the pandemic: “I always knew our assistants are creative and I’ve always known our core members of creative, but the creativity that our assistants are bringing daily has been going on for 18 plus months!”
L’Arche can be a life-changing place for assistants. Sito spoke to that when he shared that “L’Arche gave me the chance to learn that I could be faithful, that I could stay, that I could love….that has been one of the most immense gifts L’Arche has given me, knowing I could commit.”
Mary decided to stay at L’Arche after “seeing how much I needed to grow…being in a place where I feel comfortable to do that” and where people would accompany her.
We’re so grateful that wonderful people choose to come to L’Arche GWDC to be assistants and to stay for weeks or many years. Assistants are an integral part of our community and we are amazed and appreciative of their hard work.
Charles Clark has a message for assistant family members: “Keep up the good work and keep going.”
Thank you, assistants. Thank you for everything.