Special People In Northeast, Inc. (SPIN)

For Excellence in Direct SupportProfessional Training, Leadership Development and Career Development 
Special People In Northeast, Inc. (SPIN, Inc.) is a non-profit human service organization founded in 1970. Today SPIN supports more than 2000 people in a variety of settings with 634 staff, 72 students and 320 volunteers. In 1998, during a major reorganization, a leadership position in direct support called Home Life Coordinator/Community Life Coordinator was developed. These positions require an Associate’s Degree and pay $28,000 to start. More than 50 Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) are now working in these roles. Simultaneously SPIN worked with its union and staff to articulate a mission, values and expectations for a new position called Direct Support Professional.

To help staff obtain the new skills necessary to become DSPs, SPIN developed a curriculum of six new training courses. Between September, 1999 and May, 2000, all habilitation instructors and coordinators and managers completed the courses. In July 2000, 300 habilitation instructors were recognized as DSPs in a celebration ceremony. While education was highly valued by SPIN, in 1998 only seven DSPs had college degrees or were currently enrolled despite the tuition reimbursement benefit. To improve this SPIN created several new educational opportunities –

  • With the Community College of Philadelphia, SPIN offers on-site college level instruction. Employees can earn an 18-credit Certificate of Recognition, a 33-credit Academic Certificate in Human Services, and Associate’s degree in human services, with links to a Bachelor’s degree.
  • With Pierce College, SPIN offers an on-site Business degree program.
  • With Arcadia University, SPIN offers on-site graduate courses in Special Education/Leadership Development.
  • SPIN pairs each student with a mentor to support study skills, test preparation, and organizational skills, and to provide encouragement and recognition for achievements.
  • SPIN supports and recognizes students through study skills workshops, babysitting assistance, computer workshops and access.
  • SPIN provides bonuses to students for each 15 credits completed and provides agency-wide recognition for accomplishments.

Now, 56 SPIN DSPs have Bachelor’s or Associate’s degrees, and 19 are enrolled in college.

SPIN’s initiatives are not limited to formal education. They also train all managers in Joe Batten’s “Tough-Minded Leadership.” This training teaches a values-based management philosophy, which involves providing clear and stretching expectations, using a “time with” approach to support, and focusing on strength discovery, development and deployment. Seventy-five managers have completed the 48-hour course and are invited to attend monthly Batten Leadership Seminars to sharpen their skills. 

Other recruitment, retention and training initiatives include –

  • Cross-functional quality council groups for staff, consumers and families to develop, initiate and implement change.
  • Participation in a five county, 60 organization image marketing campaign to attract DSPs and to improve their status.
  • Creation of “SPIN Traditions” – an orientation training that integrates the mission, values, and expectations at SPIN with personal stories from families, consumers, and staff, field experiences and a focus on welcoming new staff members.
  • Creation of a Leadership Path that gives exemplary DSPs an opportunity to earn enhanced pay for taking increased responsibilities in staff recruitment and development. Roles include ambassador, strengths development peer, team leader (for new staff orientation and socialization), and traditions presenter.
  • Creation of a “right-fit” philosophy that is used in the hiring and pre-service training to ensure that new employees share SPIN’s values and mission, and can meet expectations..
  • A recruitment and retention plan that provides increased pay for positions, longevity bonuses, recruitment bonuses and leadership opportunities at all levels.
  • Staff recognition efforts such as rewards for achieving tenure benchmarks starting at one year.

These efforts have helped SPIN to maintain a turnover rates for adult services employees of less than 33% for the past five years. For more information contact Kathy Brown-McHale, Special People in Northeast, Inc., 10521 Drummond Road, Philadelphia, PA, 19154 (215) 613-1000 www.spininc.org.