Sep 17, 2021
Dawn Dolittle, left, works to package Fastenal parts at the STEP facility in Fairmont. Direct Support Professional, Marilyn VanDenHemel, is available for assistance.
FAIRMONT — This week has been designated at the national and state level as Direct Support Professionals Recognition Week. Sue Eisenmenger, Executive Director of STEP, Inc., said that STEP provides services to more than 100 individuals with disabilities in Martin, Faribault and Watonwan counties.
Direct support professionals provide assistance to people with both cognitive and physical disabilities by helping them at jobs with local employers, working at one of STEP’s three service sites and getting out and about in the community.
“We could not provide those services and support without the care and dedication of staff who directly support people with disabilities in their day-to-day lives,” Eisenmenger said.
Eisenmenger said the work they do depends on the individual’s needs. There are some people who don’t need 24-hour support, and some people who may need help showering, getting dressed and eating.
Eisenmenger said they have about 55-60 staff spread out throughout the three counties and about 90 percent of the staff falls under direct support professionals.
“STEP is just one disability provider in the county. There are multiple residential providers that also hire direct support professionals to work with individuals,” Eisenmenger said.
She said at the last count, there were more than 400 people who are direct support professionals with all of the providers locally.
“A lot of our employees are considered job coaches. We help people find jobs with community employers. The employer directly hires the person and then direct service staff provides support on the job,” Eisenmenger said.
There also are instances where work is brought into the building and service staff help individuals complete it.
“We also do work in community settings where we pick someone up and bring them to the library or store and get them out and about and be a part of the community,” Eisenmenger said.
When Covid-19 caused the government mandated shutdown, Eisenmenger said their building was shut down for several months. Luckily, they were able to virtual help people exercise, read books and just hold conversations.
“For people with disabilities, it was even more difficult to get out and about and make contact,” Eisenmenger explained.
She said some of STEP’s employees were essential workers because the people they were job coaching were essential workers.
Eisenmenger said she’d like the community to better understand the work that direct support professionals do.
“People tend to think of this as entry level positions that aren’t very skilled and that’s pretty far from the truth. You have to have a lot of skills to work with people. They’re teachers, counselors, coaches and medical people.There’s a lot of knowledge that people need to have to do their job well,” Eisenmeger said.
She said it’s a misconception that it’s not a skilled job and unfortunately the funding hasn’t been adequate to pay people the amount they deserve.
“It’s getting better. Some legislation was passed this last year due to Covid funding so we’ll be able to do some wage increases in the near future,” Eisenmenger said.
While she acknowledges that a lot of work places are struggling to find help these days and STEP is no exception, Eisenmenger said she believes the people who choose to work there truly love what they do.
“This is for people who want to make a difference in people’s lives. It can be extremely satisfying and if you talk to most of the direct support staff here I think they’ll tell you that they get as much back from the people they work with as they give,” Eisenmenger said.
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