At the Top of Her Field, From the Bottom of Her Heart - Penn-Mar

At the Top of Her Field, From the Bottom of Her Heart

Posted on December 4, 2019

The Direct Support Professional (DSP) Level III certification offered through the National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals (NADSP) is one of the most prestigious and impressive levels of training that someone working in the field can complete. In fact, only 10 DSPs in the United States have earned this distinguished accreditation; two of which are Penn-Mar Human Services employees.

Although this accomplishment is nothing short of monumental, and certainly entitles one to some well-earned accolades, Essence Kehr explains that for her, receiving the DSP-III certification was all about learning how to provide the best supports she possibly can. “Having this certification has filled me with pride, but it’s the process that has taught me a lot. It has opened doors that have helped me figure out how I can do things I didn’t even know were out there,” said Essence. “There were so many ideas that the Career Ladders program inspired for me, so I thought to myself, ‘I want to do this to help, not just to complete the program, but for the ladies I support.’”

Empowering Advocates

Essence, who has been a DSP at Penn-Mar Human Services for six years, explains that her job is often all-encompassing when it comes to supporting people in their daily lives. “A typical day is a lot of emotional support,” she said. “We do everything from housekeeping, to giving relationship and friendship advice, to transportation.” Essence also adds that this is what she loves so much about her career. “I just like the fact that I get to be a part of so many people’s lives, daily interactions, and achievements. I love supporting them when they’re having bad days, or going through things and could use a little bit of help.”

It is easy to see that Essence’s passion for her job and for supporting the people she works with was her motivating force throughout Career Ladders training, as she is incredibly passionate about advocacy.

Essence explains that her main goal is to always instill confidence in people to be empowered to advocate for themselves. “When we go out to eat, some of the people I support are used to cashiers directing their attention towards staff and ignoring them,” said Essence. She adds that she always encourages the people she supports to hand the cashier their money or credit card. “I want to show them that they can do anything they want, and they can be involved in anything that anyone else is involved in. I remind them to stand up for themselves and to tell others to respect their boundaries—whether it be staff or people in the community.”


A Second Family

Although being a DSP is a lot of work, Essence explains she loves “everything about this job.” When asked about her perspective on what she has learned over the course of the past six years of her career, Essence said: “I remind myself there’s always room for growing and this isn’t a field that’s black and white. This is a field where you have to be constantly changing and willing to adapt because you’re dealing with individuals. It’s not a job where you can follow a rule book. You have to adapt to everyone’s specific personalities and learn a lot about yourself along the way.”

Unfortunately, the work of DSPs like Essence can often go underappreciated and unrecognized. “A lot of people don’t know how much effort and work goes into this type of job field,” said Essence. “This is my second family, but people just see it as a regular job.”

While many people are just beginning to grasp the complexity of the DSP field, organizations like Penn-Mar simply wouldn’t function without DSPs like Essence and her peers.

Penn-Mar is so thankful for Essence, and for all of our DSPs like her, who are committed to bettering themselves professionally so they can better the lives of the people they support. Thanks to the generosity of our Michael James Pitts Endowment for the Advancement of Direct Support Professionals donors, we are proud to provide DSPs with the opportunity to complete the Career Ladders program. We are even more proud to employ so many people who are genuinely and whole-heartedly committed to our mission and to the people we support.

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