Moving Mountains Best Practices
2004 Award Winner Two

Everyday Heroes Leadership Initiative (OMRDD)

Everyday Heroes was initiated in response to the growing need to recognize the contribution of direct support professionals (DSPs), to support them to develop as leaders and teachers of other direct support workers, and to deepen their commitments and contributions to community inclusion via person-centered practice. The purpose of the Everyday Heroes Leadership Initiative is to lift up the experience of the direct support staff involved in community inclusion by learning from the experience and wisdom of chosen direct support leaders. The direct support leaders learn basic principles about inclusion and person-centered practices during the institutes and help develop training materials that will help other direct support staff learn about inclusion, empowerment, and other person-centered concepts and practices. All the heroes are actively involved in teaching the Everyday Heroes values and principles within their own agencies, to other direct support staff in their region, and to people throughout the state of New York who are inspired by their storytelling, written stories and wonderful artwork.

The passion, leadership, and “Soul” of Beth Mount (Futures Planning creator and consultant to this project), Denise Pensky (Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities-OMRDD) and Shelly Okure (OMRDD) have made a strong imprint on the Everyday Heroes Leadership Initiative. Their spirit and commitment began with the framing principles and design of the first Everyday Heroes Institute and Conference in New York City in 2001 and 2002 and resulted in the truly amazing stories told, the fabulous art work created, and the ideas for including persons in community life demonstrated by the DSPs who participated in the learning and teaching process. Their dedication and passion continued to grow from the empowering and creative changes explored in the second Leadership Institute and Conference in the Broome DDSO service area in 2003 and 2004 and resulted in awesome improvements in the quality of life outcomes of individuals supported by the DSPs. Their creativity and compassion continues to evolve with some new design features explored and created in the third Leadership Institute and Conference in the Hudson Valley DDSO service area in 2003 and 2004. The results include follow-up celebrations and meetings by the participating agencies and other organizations, the design of instructional tools and materials, and the creation of calendars to teach the values of community inclusion.

Over the past three years, the Everyday Heroes Leadership Initiative has touched the lives of many DSPs, supervisors, and managers, and leaders of many state-operated and voluntary agencies in the state of New York. Throughout the three Leadership Institutes, about 32 voluntary agencies and 27 discrete state agency programs were engaged in the training and learning process. About 100 direct support leaders actively participated in the 3 leadership institutes. In addition, around 750 direct support staff participated in the day long conferences that highlighted the direct support leaders storytelling, artwork displays, and teaching process. However, the real benefactors of the everyday heroes work are the hundreds of individuals whose lives have been truly enriched through this initiative. They now have many new friends and work at jobs they like or as volunteers or as entrepreneurs selling their own art work. They live happier lives in neighborhoods where their friends often ask the DSPs, “Where is Ramon, I haven’t seen him lately.”

For more information, contact Denise Pensky, OMRDD, 44 Holland Avenue, 4th Floor, Albany, New York 12229; Phone: 518-473-6026; Fax: 518-473-1121; E-mail: