Of the nearly seven years that Steve Nyabuti has been in the United States, he has spent the last five of them as a DSP with Penn-Mar, supporting four individuals in a residence in Whitehall, Maryland. Although he says this is not an occupation he planned to get into, the experience has given him an invaluable outlook on life that has helped shape who he is as a young man today.
When Steve, 28, immigrated to the U.S. with his family from Nairobi, Kenya in 2011, working in human services was not on his career radar at all. Back home in Kenya, just prior to his life-changing move across the Atlantic, Steve had finished high school and was just beginning studies towards a bachelor’s degree in actuarial science. Landing in Maryland, Steve put his studies on hold, while he sought employment, and an opportunity to secure his footing in his newly adopted country.
A recommendation by a friend led him to Penn-Mar and a job that has given him a chance to mature in ways, he admits, he might not have, if he had taken a more mainstream position elsewhere. Understanding who the men are that he supports, what they like and dislike has made his job easier over the years. He’s developed a level of patience and confidence to be able to handle the challenges when they arise. Communication, he said, can be the biggest challenge sometimes.
“It’s been a great experience,” said Steve. “Working with John, Chris, Evan and Richard has given me an opportunity to grow as a person. My life in Kenya was very different. When I look at the 22-year-old that I was, I don’t see the same person I am today. I’ve learned a lot from them.”
Although the experience has been rewarding in that it has given him a whole new outlook on life, supporting himself has been a little difficult. In order to make ends meet, Steve has taken on more hours at Penn-Mar. Base pay, he said, would not be able to cover his expenses, like rent. In addition, taking on another job was not feasible, since he decided to return to school several years ago to finish what he started and attain his degree in actuarial science at the University of Maryland. He graduates this spring.
“It’s hard enough, but add on school fees and everything, you don’t have enough to cover your needs. And between work and school, I have little time for anything else,” he said.
According to Greg Miller, President and CEO of Penn-Mar, “DSP wages are a challenge for all providers since the rates are set by the government and many DSPs have incomes 25-50% below a living wage. Providers and advocates are turning up the volume on this to legislators so people like Steve can earn better wages.”
Steve believes the work of a DSP is a very important one, and the field, a good one to be in. For him though, it’s been more about the experience, about life and people.
“People struggling to do just the basic things in life, makes you appreciate what you have.”