LENEXA, Kan. — Tables inside Johnson County Developmental Supports' Elmore Center were bustling Tuesday morning with various projects.
Angela Austin, senior direct support professional, encouraged the man she worked with to create a service project, such as stuffing neck pillows for cancer patients.
“There you go, good job,” Austin said as they worked to finish the project.
Direct support professionals help individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities live, work and participate in the community.
For more than two decades, Austin has made a career in this line of work.
“It just feels very rewarding, and to see that you’ve had input on things that are going on in their lives and be a part of that, that really means a lot to me,” she said.
Fellow senior direct support professional Robert Frampus-Frye said he shares Austin’s sense of pride in their work.
“I’m kind of like their big brother, you know. At least that’s how it feels to me,” Frampus-Fry said. “I’m kind of guiding them and advocating for them, but at the same time, I like to have fun.”
Frampus-Fry has grown close with Renee Meroney through balloon volleyball at a group home he supports each week. Meroney even recently wrote Frampus-Fry a letter of recommendation for an award.
“Because he really cares what we do and really takes good care of us,” Meroney said.
Both Frampus-Fry and Austin received awards, marking their accomplishments in the field of direct care for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
The American Network of Community Options and Resources (ANCOR) presented Austin with the 2023 Kansas DSP of the Year award. Austin was one of 53 other recipients of the honor, chosen from more than 350 nominees.
Frampus- Fry received the Allene M. Jackson Award from the Association on Aging with Developmental Disabilities. The award is given to a direct care staff who has demonstrated a commitment to excellence in their work with a person or persons who are at least 50 years of age and have a developmental disability.
With an award-winning staff, Chad VonAhnen, executive director of Johnson County Developmental Supports, said his team is searching for others who have a passion to serve.
There are currently 20 open positions for direct support professionals.
“Anything that we can do here to make sure the people we support here have consistent staff throughout their life, throughout their days is extremely important,” VonAhnen said. “I think about it, if I was in need of support from someone, I would want consistent staff who I know is going to be there, and I know who that person is.”
The Johnson County Board of County Commissioners recently approved a starting wage increase. People new to the job are paid $19.61 per hour while experienced DSPs receive a starting wage of $21.50 per hour.
“I definitely think that’s going to help,” VonAhnen said. “I think we have already started to see that helping us.”
Current DSPs said their field of work can be misunderstood, but the job can be boiled down to a simple explanation.
“I feel that a lot of times people are intimidated by what we do, but not realizing that it’s like having a best friend or a friend,” Austin said. “When you get into it, it feels like being at home or being out with your friends when you are with them.”
Those who are new to the field can receive all necessary training on the job.
More information about open positions at JCDS can be found online.