HILLSIDE – Charlene Walker of Community Access Unlimited has been named the 2011 New Jersey Direct Support Professional of the Year by the American Network of Community Options and Resources (ANCOR).
Walker, a resident of Hillside who also is a program supervisor at CAU, was recognized for her overall dedication to the CAU members she supports as well as for her extraordinary legal effort on behalf of one member, advocating for her rights to education.
Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) work with people with developmental disabilities to enable them to live more fulfilled lives, including community inclusion and participation. DSPs assist people with disabilities in their daily activities either at home, work, school, church or other community places and serve as advocates for those they support to ensure their rights are met and their self-expression is heard.
In selecting Walker for the 2011 New Jersey Direct Support Professional of the Year award, ANCOR noted her extraordinary efforts on behalf of CAU member Deborah C. When Deborah was scheduled to leave the Vineland Developmental Center Walker began visiting her to develop a relationship and prepare her for the transition into community living.
When Deborah entered the community Walker enrolled her in a special needs school in her district. However, shortly thereafter the school moved to discontinue educational services and place Deborah on home instruction until they could locate an out-of-district placement.
To ensure Deborah’s rights to in-school education Walker researched the New Jersey State Law for Education, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Education Law Center’s advocate guide, “The Rights to Special Education in New Jersey.” She also enlisted support from the Community Law Project; the Union County Bar Association Referral Service; the Elizabeth M. Boggs Center on Developmental Disabilities at Robert Woods Johnson Medical School; the Education Law Center; Clinical Services at Trinitas Psychiatric Hospital; the Statewide Parent Advocacy; and a private attorney.
Remarkably, within 30 days Walker had achieved an out-of-district in-school placement for Deborah at the Developmental Learning Center in New Providence, the fastest out-of-district placement in the history of CAU.
“At Community Access Unlimited we believe that every individual deserves to live within the community, both enjoying the benefits of community living and becoming a contributing member of society,” said Sidney Blanchard, CAU executive director. “For many people with disabilities, that would not be fully possible without the support they receive from DSPs like Charlene. Her dedication to always being there for those she supports is heartwarming.
“In addition, because the rights of people with disabilities too often are challenged, the role of advocate that DSPs like Charlene play is equally vital to our members’ happiness. The extraordinary measures Charlene took on behalf of Deborah were remarkable and certainly deserving of this ANCOR award.”
Walker has worked in human services for 10 years. Becoming a DSP was a natural calling for her, she explains. When she was young her mother, a human resources professional, brought home an individual from an institution who then lived with the family. Walker joined CAU in 2009.
“I fell in love with the CAU mission,” she said. “I’m helping our members to live as independently as possible.”
Making the extra effort on behalf of Campbell was natural, as well, she said.
“It’s only right. There’s no other way of putting it,” she said. “Deborah had limited communications skills but she was able to communicate that she wanted to go to school. She couldn’t understand why she wasn’t going.
“What made me extremely ecstatic was when she got home from (her new) school she showed me her work. She was very proud.”
The Direct Support Professional Recognition Award program was created by ANCOR in 2007 to acknowledge the commitment of the Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) who work to ensure community inclusion and full participation for hundreds of thousands of Americans with intellectual, developmental and other disabilities. ANCOR is a national trade association representing more than 800 private providers of community living and employment supports and services to more than 400,000 individuals with disabilities.
Charlene Walker (left), a direct support professional and program supervisor at Community Access Unlimited, with member Deborah C. Walker was named the 2011 New Jersey Direct Support Professional of the Year by the American Network of Community Options and Resources. (Photo courtesy of Community Access Unlimited)
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