The DSP Chronicles 2011 ANCOR DSP of the Year: Gina Bartlow “Learn What Makes Us the Same”


Written by Tom King

Her powerful words quickly convey why Gina Bartlow is the 2011 ANCOR Direct Support Professional (DSP) of the Year.

“I am an ordinary person doing an important job.”

“The DSP job description always seems to include something like ‘and other necessary duties not otherwise listed’ because there is no way one can capture all of the responsibilities and challenges that may present themselves in a single day.”
“So why do I love it so? The change that I see happening in someone’s life is intoxicating. To know that I have contributed in such a profound way makes it all worth it.”
” Learn what makes us the same.”

“Learn what makes us the same,” she says. That is the guiding premise of Gina’s philosophy and approach to her job at Twin Rivers Associates in Stratham, N.H., where she is a Lead Senior Instructor in the agency’s Day Program. In June at the 2011ANCOR Conference Gina was named the DSP of the Year. She was nominated by Jan Knox, her supervisor and manager of the Twin Rivers Day Program.

Here is what Jan says about Gina, who has been at Twin Rivers for three years: “Gina’s leadership qualities are excellent and she manages the program in my absence and supervises her peers, which is a delicate balancing act that she is able to manage well. I have managed this program for 19 years and she’s the best hire I have ever had. She is adored by her clients and respected by her peers.”

Gina brings a unique set of life experiences to her DSP role. In addition to the supports she offers nine clients daily, she also supports Steven, her 24-year-old son with Down syndrome who lives at home with Gina and her husband of 30 years, Michael. And living with them for a year now is Ann, a woman with Down syndrome who does not speak and requires Gina to use her sign language skills for communication and providing her supports.

Three years ago the family moved from California to New Hampshire to support her Dad after her mother’s death. They live in a duplex and share it with their daughter Lisa, her husband and their two children. Their home is now a home to eight people – and she loves it. Their other daughter, Laura, still lives in California with her husband and 1-year-old daughter.

Gina has worked in civil service jobs in her native Massachusetts and in a California as a medical secretary and medical transcriber. Interestingly, she has a degree in Interior Design and had a fabric shop business in California making hand-sewn silk lampshades and she is a quilter. When she moved to New Hampshire all of that ended.

“There aren’t any local fabric shops near my new home, so I searched for another profession to pursue,” she says. “Having some experience with special education and care for the disabled, I applied to Twin Rivers and my career as a DSP began.”

But it really began when Steven was born. “I had to learn a day at a time what to do for him,” Gina says. “I didn’t know what Down was when he was born. I have learned a lot from Steven through the years and I still do. He has something special inside.”

Jan also uses the story of Susan, a client in the day program, to illustrate Gina’s good work and soul.

“One of Gina’s clients is Susan, who is experiencing the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s (and has Down syndrome.) The relationship these two women share is extraordinary. Gina’s patience with Sue and her deep understanding of her needs go far beyond that of anyone I’ve hired over the past 19 years. Gina and Susan can often be found strolling the grocery aisles as members of our community service team, ‘Twin Rivers Delivers!’ which provides free personal shopping for elders. Susan has made strong community connections with this program, making friends with people at the stores as well as the seniors Susan herself supports. Gina has also been an unfailing ally to Sue’s family, who is struggling to understand the ramifications and nuances of Susan’s advancing illness.”

Gina also produces the program’s quarterly newsletter “Twin Rivers Slivers” in her spare time. She is a strong voice and advocate for DSPs everywhere.

“It’s a huge honor to be the DSP of the Year. I feel humble. I don’t think I’m better than anybody else, so I am accepting this award on the behalf of all DSPs,” Gina said.

We’ll end with her thoughts on her words — “learn what makes us the same.”

“People need to stop emphasizing what makes people different and bring out and share what makes us the same. That helps people who don’t know a lot about disabilities understand and be aware,” she says. “It doesn’t come naturally. You have to work at it. But if everyone could learn this the world would be a different place.”

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