By Maggie Pascucci
Jessica Velazquez came to work for Wildwood as a Direct Support Professional (DSP) in the Without Walls Program (WOW) in October 2018. Growing up in a family with a grandmother who was the manager of a Living Resources community residence, Jessica’s connection to people with disabilities began early in her life. The experience of visiting the people in the house where her grandma worked normalized disability for her, and from a young age she viewed disability as just another facet of life.
Jessica sees the WOW program as an opportunity to build relationships in the community between the people she supports and the people they encounter in their day to day activities. The Without Walls programs differ from traditional site-based day habilitation programs as there is no “home base” where groups start and end their day. Rather, Jessica and the other WOW DSPs pick people up directly from their homes and they spend their entire day out in the community. This leads to many opportunities to meet new people, as well as develop ongoing relationships with community members whose businesses they regularly visit. One such place is CREATE in downtown Schenectady, a community art studio that many WOW participants enjoy visiting. Jessica loves seeing the connections her groups make with the staff at the studio, who excel at accepting people for being who they are.
Jessica enjoys the diversity of experience that WOW provides both herself as a staff person and the people who attend the program. She spends each day with different people accompanying them to different activities. While WOW aims to provide participants with some level of structure, it also offers great flexibility for groups to make decisions about how to spend their time together. One day might involve participating in fitness activities at the Siena College gym or pool – or, a group might go bowling or play bocce ball. Another day they might be volunteering at an organization out in the community, visiting an exhibit at a museum or art gallery, or attending a concert. Other days may be spent outdoors walking a nature trail. Groups have the ability to travel to destinations all over the state, so there is great variety with where they go and what they can experience. Each day is a new adventure!
As Jessica says, being a DSP in WOW is not even like going to work; rather, it is another day to learn about herself and others while encouraging the people she supports to do the best they can do. Through her work in the program she’s developed many skills to support people, whether it be introducing them to a new place in their community, communicating with the people they meet, or assisting them with managing their emotions. She loves the individuals she supports, who give her so much joy. She loves getting to know them and the relationships they have developed, and as much as she gives to them in her role as staff, she strongly believes they give so much back to her.