Moving Mountains Best Practices
2007 Award Winner

Support Providing Employees Association of Kentucky (SPEAK)

Louisville, Kentucky
Support Providing Employees Association of Kentucky (SPEAK) is a DSP organization supported by a collaborative of community support providing organizations in the metro Louisville region. Through this organization, DSPs are given many opportunities to network with other DSPs, to attend specialized trainings, and to attend special DSP appreciation events. As DSPs reach milestones in tenure, SPEAK helps celebrate their accomplishments. Members also are given opportunities to mentor new DSPs. SPEAK helps discover what supports are necessary and then provides those that will help keep DSPs in the workforce.

SPEAK is guided by two lead agencies:

  • The Council on Mental Retardation
  • Seven Counties Services, Inc

Additional SPEAK Partners include:

  • Cedar Lake Residences
  • Community Living, Inc.
  • Dayspring
  • Dreams With Wings
  • Exceptional Teens & Adults
  • Louisville Diversified Services
  • The Mattingly Center
  • Harbor House of Louisville, Inc.

DSPs working for partnering agencies receive a free SPEAK membership once they have reached one year of tenure or beyond. All DSPs (new and seasoned) in partnering organizations can attend trainings and events free of charge. DSPs in a non-partnering agency may attend the lectures and/or brown bag lunches for a small fee.

SPEAK Services
SPEAK offers an array of services and supports to DSPs. Those services include:

  • Pre-service orientation: Gives DSP job applicants a realistic preview of the work prior to being hired. The pre-service orientation includes a 2 hour site visit, a one hour visit with a consumer and/or family member, and an explanation of national trends in DSP workforce and SPEAK’s efforts to improve turnover and retention outcomes. Each DSP applicant is paid $50 for their time during the orientation. Those who complete the orientation receive a Completion Certificate. The SPEAK coordinator meets with each applicant to guide them through the orientation process. After the orientation, the coordinator prepares a brief written summary of the visit for the hiring manager in the organization where the applicant applied.
  • Mentor/apprenticeship program: Pairs up newly hired DSPs with a seasoned DSP to help new applicant adjust to a new work environment and learn best practices from a peer. SPEAK pays mentors $15 per hour in addition to their regular hourly pay. SPEAK expects each apprentice to receive a total of 18 hours of one-to-one support from their mentor in the first 6 months of their employment.
  • Training and discussion opportunities for DSPs: The Leadership Institute publishes a quarterly lecture series on topics related to DSP work. Brown bag lunches are scheduled for DSPs to informally network with other DSPs. Topics and schedule of the lecture series and brown bag lunches are published in the quarterly newsletter and also can be accessed at Approximately 15-20 DSPs attend brown bag sessions each month. In addition SPEAK members have access to an information exchange, regional collaboration opportunities and networking opportunities.
  • Monetary and commemorative recognition for reaching tenure milestones:DSPs reaching six months of tenure will receive $75. DSPs reaching one year of tenure receive $100, a certificate, a SPEAK membership pin, and a note from the SPEAK coordinator. All DSPs reaching tenure benchmarks have their names printed in the quarterly Newsletter. SPEAK also hosts a yearly DSP Appreciation Banquet for all DSPs employed by partner agencies. Approximately 200 DSPs have participated in this banquet each of the last two years.

SPEAK participants have access to a SPEAK Manual which is a guide for Direct Support Professionals. This 44 page guide is a compilation of resources to help DSPs. The manual includes the following sections:

  • The National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals Code of Ethics and Guiding Principals
  • The Community Support Skill Standards
  • Understanding Kentucky’s Service System
  • Don’t forget about families. Bridging the gap effective communication with families
  • The power of one: A letter to the Direct Support Professional (from a parent)
  • What’s this thing called self-advocacy and self-determination
  • A credo for support
  • Taking care of you! If you don’t take care of yourself who will?
  • A dozen ways to improve your walking workouts
  • 14 keys to a health diet
  • The wellness guide to preventative care
  • Stress: Why you have it and how it hurts your health
  • Community Resource network Human Services Database: Kentucky and Indiana

SPEAK primarily is funded by a 3-year grant through the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). SPEAK receives additional funding from partnering agencies that implement the goals and objectives of SPEAK through contractual agreements with Seven Counties Services, Inc.

SPEAK accomplishments include:

  • In less than two years, 220 DSP applicants have completed Pre-Service Orientation. Of those 80% were hired by a partner organization. Of those who were hired, 93% stayed with their organization for at least three months.
  • 43 experienced DSPs have become Mentors for SPEAK.
  • 280 tenure milestone incentives have been awarded by SPEAK.
  • 96 DSPs have attended the SPEAK lecture series.
  • 210 DSPs and community stakeholders attended the 2006 DSP Appreciation Banquet.
  • When the project began, partnering organizations averaged 62% DSP turnover annually. After one year turnover was 44% and in the second year turnover was 27%.