LCBDD wanted to share a few stories from three of the many independent providers in our county. Independent providers are certified by the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities as self-employed direct support professionals who provide services/supports for people with developmental disabilities.
There are currently more than 120 independent providers working in Licking County.
For more information about how to become an independent provider, visit https://lcountydd.org/independent-providers/.
Christa Ware sees her work as an independent provider as a calling.
“I think we are chosen, it’s not something you choose,” she said.
A winner of the 2021 Lunar Award for independent providers, Christa said she has been a caregiver her whole life.
“Most families have a born, caregiving person,” she said. “My caregiving began 52 years ago.”
When her parents separated and later divorced, Christa cared for her younger siblings.
When her father remarried, he and his new wife had a baby named Nanette, who was born prematurely and had serious disabilities. Christa became her primary caregiver.
Back then, there weren’t many opportunities for children with disabilities so Nanette was kept at home and later moved to a nursing home. She died in 2016.
“We miss Nanette terribly,” Christa said. “That was the beginning. When God calls you and you are the one — this work chooses you.”
As an adult, Christa spent years caring for her niece, Amanda, who has developmental disabilities. In 1996 she became a direct support professional, supporting people in their homes.
When she got married and had her son, who was also born prematurely, she took some time to focus on her family. She and her husband fostered and later adopted another son.
On top of raising her two boys, she became the primary caregiver for her husband when he broke his back and later had a stroke.
When he passed away in 2016, Christa knew she had to reenter the workforce and it seemed like her years of caregiving had prepared her to be an independent provider.
She knew that the world had changed and there were many more opportunities for people with disabilities to get the support they needed to experience their communities.
She became an independent provider for her niece as well as a man on the autism spectrum. It was important to her to be able to provide services in her home, so she could still be there for her sons.
Christa said she tries to keep them both busy and exploring new things. Her niece enjoys learning to cook and getting her hair done, while the man she works with loves to make waffles and work outside in the garden. He enjoys woodworking and has helped make lawn ornaments. He recently created a DVD bookcase for his large movie and music collection.
“He was very proud and happy with how it turned out, it made him smile,” Christa said.
Not only does her job give her the flexibility to be there for her sons, but Christa has loved seeing how her children have formed relationships with the people she supports.
“I do have confidence that they will have a much fuller life because we did this,” Christa said.
Vicki Wilkey has had a long career working with people with disabilities.
And she’s a firm believer that once you experience the DD field, it’s almost impossible to completely leave.
She began at 18, at the former Orient Developmental Center and after several years there, she spent 20 years at LICCO as a job coach and workshop specialist.
Seven years ago, she retired from LICCO, but felt like she had more to give.
“I had no desire to sit home and do nothing,” she said.
She became an independent provider and has been supporting a woman, Stephanie, in her apartment. They’ve developed a close relationship and enjoy going out to eat and trying new things — like glass blowing at the Works.
They also enjoy delivering candy boxes to local businesses they like.
When Vicki first started working with her, Stephanie was used to saying things to please others. She would get so intimidated that even something like ordering dinner at a restaurant, was challenging.
Vicki has been working with her on self-advocacy and encouraging her to speak up, use her voice and have opinions.
It was a big moment when Vicki took Stephanie to the salon and she told the stylist what kind of haircut she wanted, without needing to ask anyone for approval.
“We’ve come a long way,” she said. “That’s what does my heart good. I’m giving her the opportunity to do things that she wants, to be in control of her life and that’s a satisfying feeling.”
Vicki also spends time helping a family friend with disabilities go to the dentist and run other errands. People have come up to them to share how meeting them changed their perspective.
Vicki said she’s hopeful that more people will get to know Stephanie and others with disabilities and open their minds to see what’s possible.
Lew Mitchell has tried to help others in every job he’s ever had.
He was working with residents at a nursing home for several years before he realized that his true calling was mentoring and supporting youth.
After several years working for an agency provider, he became an independent provider in 2014.
He specializes in working with young men, helping them transition from their teenage years to adulthood.
There is a shortage of male providers in the DD field and they have an important role to play, he said.
“We are like surrogate fathers,” he said. “That’s how I see it. I treat my people like my kids.”
For Devan Hughes, 26, working with Lew has been life changing.
“I wouldn’t have anybody else but him,” he said. “He’s helped me keep motivated about doing things.”
With Lew’s support Devan has gotten a job and his own apartment. He’s worked on anger management strategies and has made positive changes.
“He’s helped me with everything,” he said. “Lew tells you how it is, but he tries to guide you.”
Seeing people like Devan succeed is what being an independent provider is all about, Lew said.
“it’s humbling for me to have the opportunity to be in all their lives,” he said.