Providing comprehensive services for children and adults with autism spectrum disorders, complex learning disabilities and other developmental disabilities. Click here to learn more.

Welcome to Wildwood Programs


From the Current Issue of Reaching Out

 The Work of Professionals

Laura Brengel, Wildwood Programs Staff Development Coordinator


Wildwood Programs employs Direct Support Professionals who provide supports to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities at their jobs, in their homes, in adult day services and in the community throughout the Capital District. The job title of Direct Support Professional replaced many other diverse job titles at Wildwood in 2013 to better reflect the nature and value of the work that employees do as professionals.


In 2013, The Office for People with Developmental Disabilities developed a set of Direct Support Professional Competencies.  The premise being that all staff, working in services that are funded by OPWDD, should have a common knowledge, set of skills and abilities to do their job effectively and professionally.  These competencies are based on research from the University of Minnesota.


There are seven competency goal areas for Direct Support Professionals:

·      Putting People First

·      Building and Maintaining Positive Relationships

·      Demonstrating Professionalism

·      Supporting Good Health

·      Supporting Safety

·      Having a Home

·      Being Active & Productive in Society


The Direct Support Professional Competencies is more than a list. It is an outline of skills that an employee develops over time.  There are evaluation tools that accompany the competencies for the employee, the supervisor, the person they support and their family to use to give staff feedback on how they are performing in each competency area.  This feedback is given at various timeframes during a person’s first year of employment and annually thereafter.  Currently OPWDD is piloting these evaluation tools with the intention of formally introducing this tool in 2014. 


To support these competencies, Wildwood Programs has incorporated into their orientation, training for new employees on the Direct Support Professionals Code of Ethics.  Instructors for this training are individuals who receive services from Wildwood Programs.  They use stories from their own lives to demonstrate the importance of working in an ethical manner.  They have worked with Michelle Brown, Wildwood Programs Bridge Builder, to prepare for their presentations. The Code of Ethics was adopted from the Direct Support Professional Alliance of New York State.


Wildwood has also been fortunate, through a generous donation, to support and educate employees in an online, educational program of the College of Direct Support.  This online program was developed by the University of Minnesota to specifically align with the DSP Competencies and the Code of Ethics.   Melinda Burns, Wildwood Programs Director of Adult Education, facilitates a session after each course for employees to process and discuss what they learned from their course.  We are currently in our fifth session of this program.  156 Direct Support Professionals have completed Module 1, which includes 7 courses and 69 lessons. 129 employees have completed Module 2, which includes 8 courses and 49 lessons and 17 have completed Module 3, which includes 31 lessons. The knowledge and learning that staff brings to their work prepares them in advance for the Direct Support Professional Competencies. These professionals raise the bar for themselves as well as the individuals that they support.


Please follow the links below for additional information about the Direct Support Professional Core Competencies, the College of Direct Support and the DSP Code of Ethics.



OPWDD link to Code of Ethics


OPWDD link to DSP Core Competencies


University of Minnesota College of Direct Support


Direct Support Professional Alliance of New York State


National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals


DSP Roles

Lou Deepe, Director of Strategic Development



The labels we apply to people often become barriers to them reaching their fullest potential. While we are extremely sensitive to this when it comes to the people we support, we don’t always think that way when it relates to ourselves or our jobs. A great example of this is the structure of our direct support professional workforce. For many years, DSPs within Wildwood held various titles (labels) that focused more on the program they worked in than on the work they did.  Someone providing direct support in a residential setting was a “Residential Counselor” while someone providing direct supports within a day hab setting was a “Community Support Specialist”, even though both roles were very similar in nature.



We found that these different titles became barriers as Wildwood looked to move away from the “program-centered” model (where people have different staff in each program they participate in) to a “person-centered” model (where staff and supports follow the person, regardless of setting). As Wildwood began to explore the same staff supporting people across multiple settings, we found that their labels were, at times, holding them back from seeing how they could support people differently. If someone is a Residential Counselor, how could they support someone in day or even vocational settings? The different titles also contributed to documentation challenges and pay inequities.


Matt Hotaling is a great example. He began in a unique department called the Living Through Media Program, which was a pre-vocational program for two men who had interest in media formats like recording and editing audio and video projects. As the men became more experienced and grew the program became a true vocational program. This means that one of the men has actually become employed in a media industry while the other has obtained an internship. Both continue to be excited about their goals and the direction their lives are heading and Matt continues to work with them in slightly different ways and at times under different department names and categories at Wildwood. The evolution of his position involved him working first for the Pre-vocational department, then for Employment Services  as the men sought gainful employment while also working for Day Services to fill out his hours. Sliding between departments seems natural to Matt now and we understand it is the way of the future as we support people with fewer departmental boundaries.


Another example of how DSPs work across, not only agency departments, but also along with the community at large, can be seen in the work of Waverly residence manager, Bob Kelly.  Don, one of the residents, approached Bob about becoming more independent. Bob listened closely and brought Don’s wishes to the staff. A plan was set up to increase Don’s independence in a safe but progressive manner. Not only was Don encouraged to spend more time alone in the community through shopping, getting his haircut and exercise, he was also referred to the Self Advocacy Program which functions both at Wildwood and in the community. Don became very involved, learned about speaking up for himself and how to work within groups. From there he has gotten involved in a mentoring program to help younger people navigate the system and learn their own life skills. While Don readies himself for competitive employment he has developed volunteer projects at his church and through Day Services.  With Bob and other staff’s assistance, Don has been pleased with his progress, as he has garnered experience, knowledge and independence through many sources and experiences, both within Wildwood and the community.


We are all complex and a person-centered approach that uses a holistic strategy makes sense. To help us move into a “person-centered” model of supports, we knew we had to consolidate these various titles and roles into one. Wildwood was able to do this and the different roles are now a Direct Support Professional, or DSP. This change has helped staff feel that their role is tied to the person instead of any one program and has given them opportunities to support people in different environments. For the people we support, we have already seen examples of how this change has allowed them to achieve new levels of success due to consistency of staff and the new flexibility of the DSP role. 



New Employees

A letter from Harry De Libero, Deputy Executive Director of Human Services


Recruiting will always be a challenge for Human Resources (HR) departments who work in our field.  Standards are high for those who support the people we support.  We hire about one of twelve applicants.  We face two new forces in HR that add to our challenge.  One is the changing nature of work as we move to a community integration model in our adult programs.  The second is the new people who are applying for jobs, the “millennials.”


Our Strategic Planning Team leading us in building community supports for individuals outlined some future needs.  An example was an employee who could work two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon who also would be willing to live-in.  We also had discussions about hiring neighbors, family and friends.  A recent recruitment ad seeks employees willing to work 2-40 hours per week.  Flexibility is a requirement.


Millenials are people who were born between 1983-1995.  The experts tell us this demographic tend to be technology wizards, quick learners, resourceful, hardworking and high achieving.  We are warned they need to be challenged, look for instant feedback and are constantly connected via “I-everything” devices.  Sounds good until we learned their average employment tenure:  1.8 years.


Millenials comprise about 25% of Wildwood employees.   They are 48% of new hires in the past year.  Millenials are not coming.  They are here.  What are we doing?


An applicant at a Job Fair can communicate via Twitter with our recruiter Kelly Conroy.  All applications for employment at Wildwood are electronic.  Kelly developed a voluntary HR-employee communication system using smart-phones rather than e-mail.  More than 150 employees signed up.  HR team members are meeting all applicants invited for interviews.  Hiring managers and HR team up to engage potential hires during the interview and background check process.


We are promoting completion of the College of Direct Support curriculum developed by the University of Minnesota.  The curriculum gives grads a head start on the Core Competencies OPWDD will be requiring beginning in 2014.  The Conover Scholar program, Hearst Scholarships and tuition assistance provide employees funds for learning.  We are resuming our Teaching Assistant certification program this month with a goal to support all TAs in gaining NYS Certification.  Everyone can further one’s learning.


Performance management, career tracks, leadership development, competitive compensation, recognition and benefit improvement are all continuing projects.

Know someone interested in our work?  Please contact Kelly at:


This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



I Can Hire My Own Staff?

Danielle Mazza, Director, Medicaid Service Coordination


Everyone can attest that one of the most valuable roles in our field is that of the Direct Support Professional. DSPs take all the planning and goal development and make it happen. They are the staff members that have the most impact on the lives of people and where the quality of the relationship is most important.


Historically, those using services and their families have mostly relied on agencies to make a good match for them. Sometimes these matches are very positive, and sometimes they have presented conflicts. When the support relationship is not optimal in traditional settings, despite attempts to work through challenges, it is not always easy to change it. 


Self directed supports allows an individual and their family to have “employer authority”. What does that mean? It means that the person and/or their family recruits, interviews and hires their own staff. The control exists within the individual who wants supports. The agency continues to act as the “employer of record”. The agency will conduct all requisite background checks and mandated training. The employee will be put on agency payroll and will be covered by things such as workman’s compensation and provided with end of the year tax reporting information.


The key difference is that the individual and those supporting the person will choose the staff themselves. It can be someone the individual already knows and feels comfortable with. In some instances it can be extended family members. If someone does not readily come to mind, recruitment can be done by placing ads, Craigslist or working with local colleges, to name a few.


As previously mentioned, staff still need to go though the requite background checks and mandated trainings, however once that is completed they would now be available to help you work toward the things you identified as being important.  You become what are known as the “managing employer”. This means that YOU would train your staff in how you would like them to support you. YOU supervise the staff. YOU set the schedule for when they will work with you based on your approved budget. YOU are in control. And if things don’t work out, YOU don’t have to continue to work with the staff member (although you must work with the agency who has hired them for this).


Different agencies that act as an “employer of record” have different way of working with you. It is important that you ask the agency that you chose what your responsibilities will be, and what the agency will do. Some agencies will expect you to do all your own recruitment, while others will assist you with this. At Wildwood we believe it’s important for the individual and their family to do as much of this as they are able, but will also be there to provide support and assistance with recruitment if needed.


This type of self directed service in not available within all program areas. It is largely offered through Consolidated Supports and Services (CSS), or in some cases through Self Directed Community Habilitation. If you have further questions or interest about how this might be right for you through Wildwood, contact Barbara Kirby at 640-3356.


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