Moving Mountains Best Practices
2004 Award Winner Two

Direct Support Professionals Association
of Tennessee (D-SPAT)

D-SPAT is a statewide association of Direct Support Professionals working in a full array of supported and assisted living agencies, day services and supported employment programs, and in-home support services. D-SPAT organized to promote higher standards for employees and to address common issues such as reducing high turnover, promoting management practices that result in higher job retention, developing a set of statewide minimum training requirements, improving educational and career advancement opportunities, and earning the respect of employers as equal partners in setting and achieving common goals. D-SPAT’s purpose is to improve employment standards for the direct support workforce to better serve the people supported.

The seeds to organize a statewide direct support professional association were planted at a meeting held in October 2002 by two DSPs (Marie Turnmyre and Don Haughton) and three Executive Directors of community-based provider organizations in Middle Tennessee (Denine Hunt, Mid-TN Supported Living; Richard Smith, Home Place; and Noal Priestly, Cumberland Community Options). Two of the three organizational leaders were originally from Missouri where they were involved in encouraging direct support staff to become involved in that states direct support professional association. The group discussed why it was important for direct support staff to work together to improve themselves as professionals and to learn from the National Alliance of Direct Support Professionals and their mission and goals. This emerging group also developed a purpose and wrote a mission statement for a statewide direct support professional association in Tennessee. In addition it invited 183 agencies in Tennessee to discuss how to develop an association, to recruit volunteers, to create goals, and set up an action plan. Another early step was to talk with representatives of the Missouri Association of Direct Support Professionals about how they got organized, their purpose, and their initial organizing activities. As the group began meeting about once a month or so, other direct support staff and other organizations that supported the ideas began to participate. Sam Adams from Progress, Inc., was selected to chair the meetings and provide overall direction. Another direct support staff, Earl Foxx, became an active member and agreed to serve as a D-SPAT officer.

In less than 2 years D-SPAT has accomplished a lot. Some of the key outcomes as a statewide direct support professional association include:

  1. Firmly established alliances and sponsors with 25 agencies, businesses, and organizations.
  2. Helped design a survey distributed by Tennessee’s division MR to 8,500+ DSPs throughout the state.
  3. Designed and distributed a D-SPAT marketing brochure and membership card.
  4. Using the PATH process, developed a framework for use in current and future planning.
  5. Planned and implemented regional DSP focus groups and training sessions.
  6. Awarded operating grant funds from the DD Council of Tennessee.
  7. Have a current membership of approximately 50 direct support professionals and 20 D-SPAT “friends.”
  8. D-SPAT Officers recently completed in a Leadership and Management Development Training Program.

The future of D-SPAT looks promising. Some of their key projects include: Assist Tennessee’s Division of MR to interpret and create plans for the statewide DSP survey results and to work towards the purchase of the College of Direct Support (CDS) and the creation of a statewide voluntary credentialing and apprenticeship program, partner with the Microboard Association of Tennessee on a grant to set up statewide computer labs for the CDS, and to set up 3 regional D-SPAT offices for better representation and more involvement of members in the activities of the Association.

For more information, contact Don Haughton, D-SPAT, 1161 Murfreesboro Road, Suite 215, Nashville, TN 37217; Phone: 615-589-0903; Fax: 615-399-8407; E-mail: