"We Are Worth It." DSP of the Year Award Winners

Every fall at PAR's Solutions Conference, we celebrate the "We Are Worth It." award winners. These awards honor outstanding Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) who have demonstrated extraordinary and innovative support and action that lead people with intellectual disability and/or autism to live meaningful and inclusive lives. These winners are honored for transforming lives by supporting people to achieve their personal outcomes while actively engaging in their communities.

2019 Winners

Danielle O’Malley

  • Northeast Region 
  • Keystone Community Resources

Danielle has been a DSP for five years. She is the epitome of hard work and determination, which comes directly from her compassionate love and respect for the individuals she supports. Her attention to detail is evidenced by the happiness they exude daily. She ensures the home’s furnishings and décor are to their exact interest and preference, displaying beautiful pictures of the individuals and staff enjoying wonderful memories made throughout the years. Danielle prepares each birthday and holiday with delicious meals and warm and joyful decorations. 

Danielle encourages the individuals she supports to be meaningfully engaged in many local events, some of which include the American Breast Cancer Race to Cure Walk in the city of Scranton and attending the Scranton-Wilkes Barre RailRiders Baseball Games. Danielle serves as a champion of happiness, advocacy, and respect for the individuals she supports.

Karrie Schindler

  • Western Region
  • Mainstay Life Services

Karrie has supported Maryann since 2013, helping her make progress towards personal goals and be a part of her community. Recently Karrie had the opportunity to impact Maryann’s life much more deeply. After Maryann’s mother passed away in 2018, Maryann left to live in Florida with family. One night Karrie received an unexpected call from Maryann saying “I am at the Pittsburgh airport and I don’t know what to do.” Karrie immediately drove to the airport and welcomed Maryann into her own home as a member of the family while her support team at Mainstay figured out what to do. Karrie and her family then became Life Sharing providers, helping Maryann feel safe and cared for during an incredibly stressful time. Karrie has demonstrated sensitivity, compassion, and understanding, helping Maryann living a meaningful and joyful life in the community now as part of Karrie’s family.

Amanda Stifnell

  • Southeast Region
  • Access Services

Amanda shows great care and dedication to the individuals she supports. She is considered a friend, even part of the family. She helped one individual acquire the appropriate documentation to get his now full time job and taught him how to make a shopping list and budget his money. Thanks to the great strides he made in living independently, this same individual won a personal achievement award. Amanda cheers him on and encourages him at Special Olympics to get better, socialize, and make new friends.

His father shared: “There were a lot of people both in our family and our community that had their doubts with [my son] and didn’t think he’d be able to do or achieve anything of value. This day he’s proved them all wrong, and I think it’s in no small way thanks to Amanda. I really want to thank her and all that she does."

Kristin Tersterman

  • Central Region
  • Keystone Human Services

During Kristin’s eight years at Keystone Human Services, she has shown the invaluable ability to get to know each person she supports and form strong relationships with them. When one of the individuals was diagnosed with dementia, her support was extremely important not only for him but for the other staff as she sought creative ways to support him. When her coworkers were concerned about an individual potentially moving into the home, she calmed their concerns with words of encouragement.

Kristin is a huge support not only to the individuals but also to her coworkers. One individual was having a difficult time at the mall one day and became upset and eventually mall security got involved. The staff person called Kristin who was able to give guidance over the phone on how to calm the situation. Even though it was her day off, she drove to the mall to help support the individual and the staff member. Although her journey has been difficult at times as she fights cancer, she has never wavered in her commitment to the individuals she supports.

2018 Winners

Luz Diaz-Vincent

  • Northeast Region
  • Keystone Human Services

Luz Diaz-Vincent has worked for Keystone Human Services for 15 years. As a DSP, Luz has supported many individuals, assisting them to find valued social roles, developing relationships and advocating for person centered services. 

Recently, she has been instrumental in helping an individual who has significant medical and mental health issues. The team was brainstorming different ways to help bring meaning and motivation into this individual’s life. Luz stepped up to the plate and began working one on one with him. By respecting his choices, empowering him to make decisions and teaching him coping skills, she helped him to regain his confidence and explore new opportunities.

Currently, this individual is an active member of his community. Luz helped him find inclusive and meaningful activities despite his chronic medical and mental health issues. He volunteers several times a week and has built a social network that has been vital to his recovery. When he is having a difficult day, Luz is always a patient and active listener. She encourages him to express his feeling and provides reassurance. 

Luz never shies away from a challenge and is always thinking of creative ways to facilitate inclusivity for the people she supports.

Walter Hardy

  • Southeast Region
  • Delta Community Supports, Inc.

For 28 years, Walter Hardy has provided extraordinary, innovative support to people with intellectual disability. Walter has a keen understanding of techniques to calm individuals with conflictive behaviors.

His work with Steven, who habitually hit himself, offers an example of Walter’s unique skills. When treatment began, Steven had a restricted program to address hitting that was hard enough to detach his own retina. Walter noticed that Steven was fascinated by the silver paper inside a cigarette wrapper. The paper stimulated Steven while keeping his hands busy. He observed that Steven liked the texture of a potato chip bag. Steven stopped hitting himself when he played with one.

Walter began using these appropriate distractions to help Steven change his behavior. He also built a tire swing Steven could use when he needed outdoor time. To expand the positive impact of his methods Walter created a video which helped Steven's family members and support community learn to use the creative behavioral techniques.

In this case, and countless others, Walter shares his deep insight to help people with intellectual disability become healthier, happier, and better able to connect with the community around them.

Tamara Pudder

  • Western Region
  • Lakeshore Community Services

Tamara has been employed in Lakeshore’s Warren County area for over 15 years. In addition to her duties as a full time DSP, Tamara is always helping other staff and supervisors without being asked. While this isn’t uncommon for Lakeshore staff, she has gone way beyond what is expected.

Tamara has developed a special relationship with several older individuals at Lakeshore who have little or no family or community relationships. She has expanded her relationships by devoting many hours of her personal time taking consumers on activities and community outings.

Tamara’s devotion to one consumer, Roseanne, has been especially noteworthy. Roseanne recently needed to be placed in a nursing home and Tamara  has continued to maintain her relationship with her. She has taken Roseanne and others out to dinner and social activities and provides direct care for them when needed. When Tamara arranges these dinners and outings, she uses her own funds, and transports Roseanne at her own expense. Tamara incorporates both Roseanne and Connie, the individual she currently supports, in her personal family activities and community events to hep them expand their friendships and bond with others in the community.

Alene Tesfay

  • Central Region
  • Friendship Community

Alene began working at Friendship Community in May of 1991. He has served the majority of individuals at the Lititz program and has formed trustworthy relationships that have evolved into authentic friendships.

The parents of the individuals at the Lititz program have expressed gratitude to Alene and Friendship Community for the consistency of care for their loved ones. Recently, Alene attended an individual’s parents’ 50th anniversary party. Over the years he has attended holidays and other family celebrations where he was not only serving the needs of individuals, but participating in the celebrations as an honorary family member. 

Alene consistently prioritizes innovative and inclusive community opportunities, whether it is taking individuals to a local fishing derby where they catch multiple fish together, or assisting in a roller-skating rink experience where he pushed individuals’ wheelchairs while he skated.

The individuals at the Lititz program have thrived due to this long-standing friendship and it is evident when Alene walks into the home how much they truly care, appreciate and love Alene.