Valued Voices: Partnerships in Action

Valued Voices spotlights the amazing support partnerships within our organization.

I recently met with Annie and Michael to discuss their partnership of support. Michael graciously invited me into his home, where he lives independently. Annie candidly discussed what led her to apply for a Community Support Worker (CSW) role with Values Into Action, and we bonded over our similar life paths. Annie used the word “accidental” to describe how she learned of the opportunity. This supports my belief that a support partner can be anyone who has empathy, is creative, and enjoys interacting with others. Annie’s warmth and enjoyment of her time with Michael is apparent. I wished I could have spent the entire day with them, chatting about Michael’s vision for living an everyday life while he quizzed me on song lyrics. His storytelling is animated by a secret language that he’s developed with Annie. Recalling the moments of their shared laughter will keep me warm on the coldest of winter days.

Direct Support Partners are the heart and soul of inclusive communities, yet the role is puzzling to the general public. While I was in grad school, I stumbled upon direct support work, and my friends and family didn’t quite understand. “So, what do you DO for six hours a day? Walk around the mall? Sit around her house?” For the purpose of this story, I will refer to the person I supported as “L”. Our daily activities involved taking L to her volunteer gigs at a daycare (she was the only person who could redirect rowdy toddlers with a song) and an agricultural education center (L wrangled eggs from the chicken coop like a pro!). Sure, we went shopping on rainy days, because that’s how she relaxed. We had bad days and got on each other’s nerves, just like any partnership. I learned more about the world during my partnership with L than I ever did in a college course. My problem-solving, communication, and creativity flourished.

During my time with L, I also watched her face barriers within the community that ranged from frustrating to downright cruel. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities are still not fully seen and heard within our society. The widespread stigma is difficult to escape. As I stood alongside a person simply attempting to live an everyday life, which is the most basic human right – I knew the most important aspect of my role was partnering with L to amplify her voice. This included encouraging her to tell people that she is capable and independent and worthy to be seen as a human and not a problem.

In my current role as Associate Director of Culture & Talent, identifying potential support partners is crucial in building dedicated and sustainable teams who provide direct support in partnership with people with disabilities. We are looking for people who want to ensure that ALL people’s rights are secured, believe that people can live a self-determined life, and who champion equity – that is the foundation upon which our organization is built.

Hanging out with Annie and Michael during the filming of Valued Voices was an inspiring reminder of the incredible people who choose to be a part our community. Also, of our desire to add to our growing teams.

I’ll continue searching for the next Annie – someone determined and dedicated to the dignity, empowerment, and wellness of those accepting support – with the hope that direct support partners will be seen as essential to healthy and inclusive communities.

Thank you for tuning in! If you have ideas for a future Valued Voices episode, please contact me.