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Montanans honored for their work with special needs individuals

Direct support professionals awarded for their work with those with developmental and intellectual disabilities.
Posted at 10:29 AM, Sep 15, 2023

HELENA — On Thursday morning, direct support professionals were awarded for their work with those with developmental and intellectual disabilities.

“So, what we really wanted to do was bring, elevate this profession, shine a light on the important work that they’re doing. Because really, truly DSP’s are such a critical aspect of our service delivery system. And we really wanted to acknowledge the important work that they’re doing each and every day across our state,” says Bureau Chief for the Developmental Disabilities Program with DPHHS, Lindsey Carter.

Direct Support Professionals from Helena, Great Falls, Billings, Plentywood, and Ronan were recognized for their work by Lt. Governor Kristen Juras and DPHHS Director Charlie Brereton.

This was the final event of a three-day conference put on by MT DPHHS, the Montana Council for Developmental Disabilities, and the Montana Association of Community Disability Services.

The folks honored were nominated for their exceptional work helping those with disabilities. Valeri Cummings drove all the way from Plentywood in the northeast part of the state to be honored.

“You know, they need all the help they can get, people in the community to support them, and yeah, to look after them, and help care for them,” says Cummings.

Currently, the state of Montana doesn’t have an assisted living facility that specializes in care for adults with autism. Rich and Julie Janssen are trying to change that by working to create a facility in Ronan for that exact purpose. Janssen spoke on how thankful he was for his late son’s DSP.

“Elliot was such a big part of raising Jake, to allow us to work and function in society and to have our time away and he was an angel for Jake. He was there with him over 40 hours a week and he did it willingly. He did it lovingly. He cared for Jake,” says Rich Janssen.

The Janssen’s son, Jake, passed away in April of this year. But this hasn’t deterred the Janssen’s mission of creating a space for other families to keep their loved ones in the state.

“It’s vital because more Montanans have autism. And these young children, which Jake was at one time, grow up to be adults,” says Janssen

Carter with DPHHS says that access to in-state care and access to Direct Support Professionals is vital for Montana families.

“We’re having a lot of conversations on both the state level and a national level around workforce shortages which impacts access to needed services for many individuals but especially those with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” says Carter.