‘All you need is a little love to share’

Direct-support professional Brenda Gardner offers fresh cucumbers during a farm visit.

Most every day, Brenda Gardner sees or hears or does something that leaves her heart a little more full. “I enjoy the accomplishments of others,” she said, smiling. “I like seeing them get to do things that lots of people might not give them a chance to try.”
Gardner is a direct-support professional (DSP) at Hattie Larlham, a nonprofit disability-services organization that provides care and support to adults and children throughout Ohio. Colleagues say Gardner always seems to go above and beyond, whether taking art classes so that she can learn to teach others or putting much of her own life on hold to offer extra help during the pandemic.
“Brenda is a superstar,” said Liz Jones, Hattie Larlham director of day programming in central Ohio. “She’s done so much for our people. I’m just insanely proud to know her.”
Gardner, who is 57 and has been in the disabilities field for about 12 years, said she knows how important her job is. Plus, she loves it:
Why did you become a DSP?
I had been working in a warehouse for a good while. I was with one company for 20 years. The last time I got laid off, I said I didn’t want to go back to that. I wanted to do something more meaningful.
You want people with disabilities to feel good about exploring the community, right? Colleagues say you’re willing to give all sorts of activities a shot.
Maybe I’m a little bit fearless. I’ll take people pretty much anywhere! We love to go camping; we’ve also gone canoeing. We’ll hike, visit a farm, study different cultures and try different restaurants. I’m a visual learner, so I taught myself a lot of arts and crafts. Now we can do projects. We have a lot of fun. I’ve really stepped outside my boundaries, too.
That all sounds wonderful. But you’re supporting people with developmental disabilities, so folks are bound to hit some rough patches now and then.
Oh, sure. People have bad days, and it can be difficult. I find ways to comfort them, to reassure, so that whatever is going on, they still can have the best day possible. All you need is a little love to share.
You’re a tremendous advocate for disabilities community. Would you recommend the job of DSP?
I would recommend it. It rewards you in so many ways, and that makes it worth it in the long run. The wages can be an issue; some people leave because they can’t afford it. That hurts us. It makes pressure, because we are so needed. We need to find ways to make this work so that more people will come into this field. Lots of people are capable of doing it, and it’s a great way to grow.