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Sunday, 29 November -0001 19:03

For One Direct Support Professional, Work is More Than Just a Job

By | Business

Saratoga Bridges and the New York State Office of Persons with Developmental Disabilities have proclaimed September 9-15 as Direct Support Professionals (DSP) Week.


DSPs work in the agency’s Alpha Career Options program, which has been helping individuals secure competitive employment positions in the county for over 15 years, according to the Saratoga Bridges website. The staff presently provides 100 employees assistance in a variety of areas, from intensive job development and placement to on-the-job training and follow-up services.

Debbie Barrett, a DSP and Employment Specialist who has worked for Saratoga Bridges for 29 years, is just one of the many professionals who are being honored for DSP Week.

Barrett has served up to 30 individuals at a time in her years at Saratoga Bridges, conducting hands-on training at their jobs, fixing any issues that may arise at their worksites, and staying involved with them by visiting their jobs and calling them often to keep in touch. Barrett has even assisted with one individual, Michelle Yung, for 18 years, developing a strong bond between the two.

“I call Debbie for advice. I know at any given time if I have any problem with anything, I can always pick up and call. She’s just there. She helps with anything, [she’s] there through anything. I call her at the office or on her cell phone and she comes by my job to see how I’m doing,” Yung said.

Pamela Polacsek, who has worked as Communications Specialist at Saratoga Bridges for over 14 years, also had high praise for Debbie’s character.

“Debbie works long hours and is a certified family care provider. She walks the walk and talks the talk. She is well loved by her peers and the administration. She really personifies what our agency stands for. She treats these individuals as family,” Polacsek said.

Barrett said staying involved and developing relationships with her consumers is key for their success in the work field.

“I am their support. I don’t just place them on a job and leave them. I will personally do anything in my power to help them reach their goals, whatever they may be—finding their own apartment, helping them with funding if they don’t have support they need…some individuals don’t have service coordination or families to help them, so if I just leave them out there on a job and forget about them, they’re not going to make it,” she said.

Barrett’s involvement with Yung has helped her work in various fields since they met, landing jobs from positions in fast food restaurants and cleaning services to her current job in the health care field, Yung said.

“At one time I had three part-time jobs that made up for one full-time job,” Yung said. “I was 19 when I started at Wesley Health Care Center (WHCC). Before that I was working at McDonald’s and Burger King and maid services, and after a while I applied for the job at Wesley and Debbie helped me fill out the application.”

Yung started out as a housekeeper at WHCC and since then has climbed the work ladder to a supervisor position, confirming Barrett’s statement that consumers who have involved DSPs will find success in the job market.

“She gives more than other people,” Yung said. “Like how a family member gives to another family member—she gives more than that.”

The job comes with many rewards, Barrett said. “I’m needed,” she said. “It’s rewarding when my consumers are succeeding in their jobs and feeling good about themselves.”

However, the population increases in Saratoga County—which is now one of the fastest growing counties in the state due to the arrival of GlobalFoundries and its employees—are making a major impact on Saratoga Bridges.

"We are always looking for ways to expand our services. We [do so] based on what the individuals and families are asking of us, and we reach out to our staff all the time to ask how we can provide better services," said Executive Director Valerie Muratori.

But Barrett’s frustrations with time management have increased with the agency’s growth.

“She’s sorry she can’t split equal time with everyone,” Yung said.

Barrett agreed, adding that “When [the consumers] really need me, I’m there, but I wish I had more time to be there for them. Our agency is growing—18 years ago when I came to supportive work, we only had a handful of consumers, so we had that extra time to take them for lunch and have coffee with them,” Barrett said. “Now our department has grown so much, you just don’t have that personal time to be there for them, and they want that. They need that.”

She added that some consumers will even create situations at their workplace to lure her to see them.

“Sometimes they’ll have problems at work just to see me, just to get me there. And I feel bad. When they really need me, I’m there, but I just wish I had more time to be there for them,” Barrett said.

State budget cuts that have reduced the funding for Saratoga Bridges have also made an impact on the employees and consumers.

“Our consumers are very loyal. They do many jobs that the younger kids don’t want to do, and we need to advocate to the legislature to let them know the impact of these budget cuts. It’s just so sad. It really is. The people we’re committed to serve are the ones that ultimately suffer,” Polacsek said.

“New York State wants employers to hire our individuals, but they’ve got to remember that if [the consumers] don’t have the support that they need and they run into problems at these businesses, they’re not going to want to hire them,” Barrett added. “I want to get the word out. Employers should hire our individuals—they never miss work, are very reliable, and they go the extra mile. They do whatever. They are just wonderful consumers.”

As one of the largest private non-profit agencies in Saratoga County, Saratoga Bridges has been providing the highest level of programs to 800 people with developmental disabilities and their families for more than 55 years by promoting their abilities and achievements in every aspect of the community.

“This agency gave me the opportunity to grow as an individual,” Barrett said. “I just love what I do. I love my consumers and being a family care provider.”

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