Set Up for Success: Empowering Our Workforce

When local community colleges began offering credentialing courses to direct support professionals last fall, Unity House DSPs were first in line.

At Tompkins Cortland Community College, all 15 seats were filled by Unity House staff members, said Patty Tvaroha, professor of human services.

“It has been a blessing, I think, to have them all be Unity House people,” Tvaroha said. “They are creating their own natural support system.”

Learning more about disability advocacy and support strategies is important to Service Instructor Lea Church, who works at Auburn Day Hab. She enrolled in Corning Community College’s DSP-1 credentialing course to learn better ways to communicate with the people she supports.

“If I can learn better ways to be able to do my job so that individuals develop the skills they want or need, it seems like the easiest decision to make,” Lea said.

She plans to keep working through DSP-2 and DSP-3 accreditation so she can develop better ways to combat stigma and empower people.

Unity House offers pay rate increases for every DSP credential level completed, which can boost pay by as much as $1 per hour. Wages also increase significantly for employees who hold an associate’s and/or bachelor’s degree. The academic credit earned through the credentialing courses provide a head start on a degree in human services.“

This legitimizes and validates everything our DSPs are wanting for themselves,” said James Beaumont, assistant director of day services. “A lot of our DSPs have expressed interest in going back to school…Now, we have the capability to provide that college-level training at no cost.”

Unity House CEO Liz Smith said she pushed for credential-based pay increases because education and training help employees better support people with disabilities. These incentives also aid in staff retention. She’s happy to see that so many employees are eager to earn credentials: “This credentialing shows that DSPs are professionals and that they are being valued for their professionalism. It helps people appreciate the value of the expertise that DSPs already have.”

Service Instructor Lea Church supports John, a participant at Auburn Day Hab.
Service Instructor Lea Church supports John, a participant at Auburn Day Hab.


The following staff members recently completed their DSP-1 accreditation: Russell Buehler, Sarah Coyle, Lea Church, Manderin Darling, Danielle Hilts, Tina Laird, Aaron Kelley, Melinda Mills, Nicole Overstreet, Brittany Randolph, Cassandra Rainess, Maria Riggles, Heather Small, William Vaughn-Russell, Kayla Washburn-Sayre, Christopher Wouters

What’s next?
Thanks to you and other donors, all direct support professionals now have the ability to enroll in flexible, on-demand DSP credentialing courses. Unity House’s new workforce training platform, Relias, allows DSPs to learn while they earn.