Susan Feliciano has not been a Direct Support Professional for very long. This June will mark three years in the profession, which she says she’s definitely in for the long haul. This vocational commitment is backed up by her recent graduation from Penn-Mar’s Career Ladders program from which she received her DSP-I certification, the first of two levels of the credentialing program. Once Susan is fully DSP-Certified, she can move on to become a DSP-Specialist if she chooses.
“It’s a lot of work, but it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be,” said Susan, 28, a York County native, and active member of Faith Community Church. In addition to the 100 hours of training and education that is a requirement of the DSP-I certification, Susan had to prepare a portfolio of work samples of competencies set by the National Alliance of Direct Support Professionals with whom Penn-Mar has partnered. One of the competencies she felt particularly passionate about was on how people with I/DD cope with grief.
“I learned that individuals with intellectual disabilities grieve just as we do, and that sometimes it might be harder for them to express that grief because of communication barriers and not being able to express themselves freely,” she said.
Working one-on-one as a Community Instructor with Penn-Mar resident Richard Pieper, 58, Susan experienced his own personal grief when his father passed away last year.
“Richard is still grieving for his dad. They were very close,” said Susan. “As he goes through the grieving process, I’m trying to help him communicate and understand his moods and behaviors.”
Susan got to know Richard at the onset of her new career at Penn-Mar, when she was hired as a residential sub and then full-time residential assistant at Richard’s group home. She was no stranger to the nonproft as her father Alfredo was a Penn-Mar DSP for about five years.
“At first, just hearing about my dad’s experiences working with individuals out in the community sounded like fun,” said Susan. “But once I started working and learning about the individuals and their disabilities and the responsibilities of the job, I realized quickly that it wasn’t going to be easy. That was a big eye opener.”
Before joining Penn-Mar, Susan worked for six years in childcare working for a number of different daycares in the York area. It was her desire to try something new and her love of working with people that led her to Penn-Mar.
Her work with Richard takes them out in the community daily. On Friday’s Susan accompanies him to his job at Archetype Frameless Glass in Yoe, Pa., where he cleans the restrooms and lunchrooms. She stays with him on the job since he has a seizure disorder and can become very anxious. She also takes Richard, a big train fan, to volunteer once a week at Steam Into History in New Freedom, where one of his favorite things to do is shred paper in the office.
With her DSP-I certification out of the way, she is looking forward to beginning the next level.
“This is my chosen career,” said Susan, who is also looking forward to her upcoming November wedding to fiancé Michael Nelson. “This career is not as easy as some people think it is, but it’s definitely rewarding in terms of helping individuals grow and learn, and reach for what they want in life.”