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SOAR365 DSPs: Making a Difference Every Day

September 11-17 is National Direct Support Professional (DSP) Recognition Week

Whether it’s a life-long calling or a recent career switch, being a direct support professional (DSP) is all about heart. And SOAR365’s DSPs are the best!

DSPs at SOAR365 work in a variety of programs: Adult Day Support (Saunders, Westwood, Camp Baker and Staples Mill locations), Children & Youth Program (Saunders and Camp Baker), and Respite (Camp Baker).

Read this article to learn more about the DSP role at SOAR365.

When we asked some of our DSPs what the role means to them, they shared many great insights. Meet a few of our SOAR365 DSPs:

Desiree Anderson
Assistant Supervisor

Children and Youth Program at Saunders

Desiree started at SOAR365 as a DSP and is now a supervisor. As she says, “My advice is to learn all you can (take all training offered and do not be afraid to be hands on), so you can move up the ladder.”

“To me, the ‘s’ in DSP is satisfaction. I find satisfaction in helping individuals strive towards their independence. And being able to work with so many different personalities!”

“Every day is an adventure at SOAR365 Children & Youth. I support individuals with their routines and assist with daily living, also teaching them life, coping and educational skills. This may look like assisting with the bathroom or problem solving when one of the kids have a challenging day.”

“I truly feel like nobody knows the students better than the DSPs. We defuse situations, we know their medical history, we know what makes them happy, we know what may trigger them.”

“Balance and problem solving are skills that a great DSP has.”

Sherece Bruce
Adult Day Support at Saunders

Sherece is originally from Queens, New York, and started in the intellectual disability field in 2000. She joined SOAR365 in October 2019 and loves being part of change and knowing she played a key role in development and growth.

“To me, DSP means:

D = dedicated to making a difference

S = supporting individuals we provide services to daily makes me smile

P = priceless when you’re part of the progress made”

Josh Rubino
Adult Day Support at Saunders

Josh is an Eagle Scout from Buffalo, NY, who earned a Psychology degree from VCU last year. After working in retail and manual labor jobs, he decided to become a DSP because it gave him a sense of fulfillment.

“I have been a DSP for nine months now and I would not change a thing about my career switch to SOAR365. A week in the life of a DSP at SOAR365 consists of improving each individual’s way of life with community activities such as Meals on Wheels and the $1 Summer Movie Series, leading and assisting our individuals with arts and crafts, physical fitness, safety, and healthy living lessons/activities.”

Shalaven Shaw
Assistant Supervisor

Children & Youth Program at Saunders

Shalaven has been recognized by our partner, Feed More, two years in a row for her outstanding commitment with compliance regarding the Children & Youth Kids’ Café lunch and snack program.

“For me, being a DSP gave me the tools and skills to now be an Assistant Supervisor. Being able to organize activities to problem solve brings joy because I know I am making a different to both individuals and staff.”

Alicia Thomas
Summer Camp and Respite programs at Camp Baker

Alicia wears two hats at SOAR365: she is the Summer Camp Office Administrator and a DSP in the Respite program.

“I made the decision (to become a DSP) the moment I got here, to do as much as I can because I always enjoy learning new things, I want to experience as much as possible and the environment here just makes me want to do more. There is plenty of opportunity here and it just feels good to help however I can keep programs running smoothly.”

“At Camp Baker it’s such a cozy environment, the serenity is so refreshing for staff and participants. Campers have expressed how camp is such a stress reliever.”

Jerri Vincent
Adult Day Support at Camp Baker

Jerri knew she wanted to be a DSP since she was a child, when her mother worked at Southside Virginia Training Center (where Jerri worked as well, prior to coming to SOAR365).

“Becoming a DSP has some great perks when you put your heart into the position. There is room for improvement and growth as a DSP; the willingness to learn new skills and see it through.”

“One of the participants we support was quiet and had issues with socializing. Now, they are now playing board games and engaging in more activities with their peers.”

Evelyn Williams
Adult Day Support at Staples Mill

Evelyn says she loves working as a DSP at SOAR365 because she enjoys her peers. When there is a problem, everyone works together. She appreciates how much they help each other build on each other’s skills.

“I love working in this field because I have a caring spirit about other’s needs. I love making the difference in other people’s daily life.” 

Michelle Woodson
Adult Day Support at Staples Mill

From a young age, Michelle saw her mother provide care for schizophrenia patients and it gave her the motivation to follow in her mother’s footsteps to care for people.

“Some of our participants come to us with very challenging behaviors, but the staff that I work with, they don’t give up! They problem solve everything to make sure each participant’s transition will be a great experience.”

“[Participants] love when you can sit down and talk with them one-on-one. When you take the time to show you care and you’re listening to them, they have stories to share and so much to say!”

“You’ve got to be able to meet participants where they are. … It’s got to be something you feel in the heart. You have to have that compassion, that sense of feeling for people.”

“It’s a very rewarding job, and I’m proud to say where I work.”

About SOAR365

SOAR365 is a Richmond-based not-for-profit organization created in 1954 by area families who were determined to find a better way of caring for their loved ones with disabilities.  We employ nearly 250 individuals across our organization, including approximately 130 who have a disability through our Business Solutions division.

Our wide range of programs and services are designed for individuals and families who are coping with the daily “real world” challenges of living with a disability.  We have a profound impact on nearly 1,150 individuals and families who receive our help each year – through adult and youth programming, pediatric therapy, respite, summer camp, workforce development, and more. Our Business Solutions division performs a variety of services for area organizations, generating millions in annual revenue for SOAR365 that is used to support our programs and services.

For more information, please visit and our social media channels.

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