Ask Hope Johnson to describe what she does, and her answer – Just about everything! – says a lot about the way she embraces her job as a direct-support professional.
“We go out and integrate ourselves into the community,” Johnson said, smiling. “I tell people, if it’s somewhere I’d take my kids, family or friends, then we go there, too.”
Johnson recently was named the Ohio DSP of the Year by ANCOR, the American Network of Community Options and Resources, for excellence in the field of direct support to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She was chosen from more than 350 nominees.
“This is not easy work, and it really is hard to find good staff,” said Lynsey Cooner, Johnson’s supervisor at Boundless, a statewide nonprofit disability services provider based in Franklin County. “Hope is a true people person. She loves to help.”
Officially, Johnson’s title is community integration specialist for the WOW (Without Walls) program at Boundless. But that hardly describes the extent of the role she plays in the lives of people with developmental disabilities.
“We had a client who was completely nonverbal when he started the program,” Cooner said. “He used a tablet and was only able to text short messages. Hope spoke to him daily, just like everyone else, and he became interested and immersed in their conversations. He started to respond to her verbally, and his dad says that now, he won’t stop.”
Johnson also has helped people with developmental disabilities form close friendships, learn to manage difficult behaviors, and swim for the first time. She even made sure one man fulfilled a personal goal of becoming a much-liked regular at a local restaurant.
She says it’s important for people to be able to develop special relationships with each other as well as their communities. “Most of my clients don’t live together, and they come from different backgrounds, but we come together as a family.”
Johnson hopes that current advocacy efforts lead to better wages for direct-support professionals, and she appreciates when others recognize the demands and the value of the job. She faced an especially difficult situation one day at a library as one of her clients became upset and confrontational.
“A woman came up to me and said, ‘You’re being very compassionate,’’’ Johnson recalled. “When I have a bad day, I look back to that. It means a lot that somebody noticed.”