Speech given by Nicholas Wager, Direct Support Professional at The Arc of Monroe, at the #bFair2DirectCare Rally held on March 8th, 2019.
“I would like to thank everyone for being here – our New York State elected officials, those who organized this rally, fellow Direct Support Professionals, and most importantly the people that we support.
My name is Nick Wagar, and I am a direct support professional at The Arc of Monroe. I became interested in this field when I was working as a manager at the Dollar Tree. You see, people would come into the store almost daily, and I got to know them. Some of these “regulars” were people with developmental disabilities. I saw them every day for years. I also got to know the Direct Support Professionals that were with them. They were all great people. I watched their interactions with one another, respectfully teaching how to handle their money or purchase something. I watched them interacting, laughing, and having fun. I thought to myself: “This is the best job ever. I could really see myself doing this.”
I didn’t think about the pay. I was motivated, like everyone else in the field, by a passion. Somehow, I would figure how to make ends meet. I was fortunate that I had a second job, and had people to help out with my two young sons. Some people I know as DSPs have three or four jobs. They are single parents. Honestly, I don’t know how they do it. I don’t know, because they don’t complain about it. They just do it.
I work with a great group of people whose number one priority is the people we support. When I first started, I learned everything from my co-worker, Adam. He was a role model for staff, showing care and compassion. And fun. People loved him. We were all sad the day that he told us that he took a new job for the state, making $17 an hour. He had a family he needed to support with a 40-hour a week job. He needed to do it.
I get it. But that didn’t help the fact that people missed him terribly. And Adam missed all of them. They hung out together, had meals together, worked on goals together.
There are so many awesome people that work as Direct Support Professionals just like Adam. They care for the most vulnerable, administering meds, tube feeding, using hoyer lifts. They take people to the Dollar Tree to pick out just the right scent of shampoo. They brush hair and paint nails because it’s important for them to feel like everyone else, to feel proud and respected.
People supported trust them. They see them every day in their homes. They are like family to them. Sometimes, they are the only family they know.
It is devastating when these strong relationships are broken when people have to leave because $12 an hour is not enough. Not enough for a family of four with a single income. Not enough to pay for a car payment to get them to work, for a job that requires a driver’s license. The people I work with are the best people I know. This is not just a job for them, it is their calling. They are fierce and determined. When someone has to leave, they feel like they failed.
The thing is, they didn’t fail. We as a state failed them. Direct Support Professionals who work for non-profit agencies do this work on behalf of the state, which does not provide a living wage.
We are at a critical point two years after the first win with bFair2DirectCare. The state can continue to advocate, to show respect for Direct Support Professionals and the people they support, by following through on the commitment they made and include the funding necessary to provide a living wage to DSPs. I can continue advancing my career within the field. And I can be a leader to more people who decide to make this theirs.
It’s as simple as this. People with developmental disabilities need the support of DSPs. DSPs need the support of the state.
This is why I am here, and why all of you are here. Because of all of the Direct Support Professionals like so many of you that are here today. And for all of the people we support.