“The First One” NADSP Conference A Resounding Success


This past May, the National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals (NADSP) held its first Annual Meeting & Conference in Louisville, Kentucky. Titled “The First One”, in anticipation of many such conferences for years to come, this inaugural conference, which was held in conjunction with the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD), provided an opportunity for direct support professionals (DSPs), agency leaders, people with disabilities, and professionals to gather to discuss best practices, share information, and help strengthen this vibrant and essential community.

For two days—Saturday, May 30th & Sunday 31st—hundreds of attendees from 30 different states were treated to a variety of informative sessions, involving many of the most innovative leaders in the field, from organizations as diverse as NADSP; the Human Services Research Institute; the Ohio Alliance for Direct Support Professionals; and various private, not-for-profit agencies, among many others.

Attendees to “the First One” came away with a renewed sense of the importance of their work, and were refreshed from encounters with fellow DSPs, and were encouraged by speeches and training sessions held throughout the weekend.

Day one included a warm welcome from NADSP board president Carol Britton Laws, followed by an invigorating discussion of the vast benefits of direct support workforce development from executive director Joe Macbeth. John Raffaele, of John Raffaele Direct Support Professional Consultant Group LLC, engaged his audience in ethical dilemmas that face DSPs on an almost daily basis.

Later that day, Dr. Amy Hewitt of the University of Minnesota, was awarded NADSP’s first “John F. Kennedy, Jr. Award for Direct Support Professional Advocacy & Leadership”, recognizing her for “her tireless advocacy and support of direct support professionals.” Dr. Hewitt, the Director of the Research and Training Center on Community Living and the Training Director of the Institute on Community Integration, has had a long career advocating for direct support professionals and the people they support. Her efforts to create a nationwide credentialing process and competency- based  training has helped improve direct support workforce practices throughout the United States.

Dr. Hewitt was also a key leader in the development of the DirectCourse/College of Direct Support (CDS), whose online curriculum has trained hundreds of  thousands of DSPs across the country. This curriculum has also streamlined and unified training throughout the U.S., improving DSP careers, and by extension the lives of people they support.

The conference was also a great opportunity for DSPs from around the country to share stories–the successes and the challenges–that they face every day. Undoubtedly, this networking gave individuals new professional contacts, not to mention fast friends, to help in their careers. The closing event, presented by Chris Stevenson, CEO & President from Minnesota’s Cedar Lake, Inc., detailed a culture change initiative called Brand New Day, which even involved singing and dancing.

The NADSP is already busy planning “The Second One”, which will undoubtedly involve more people, more ideas, and more excitement for anyone involved with direct support professionals.


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