Moving Mountains Best Practices
2009 Award Winner

The Community Living Program (CLP) of Catholic Community
Services of Southern Arizona

Tucson, Arizona

The Community Living Program (CLP) of Catholic Community Services of Southern Arizona, a Tucson-based provider of residential services for people with multiple disabilities, was recognized with the Moving Mountains Award for their innovative Starfish Program, which has been instrumental in building morale, rewarding achievement, and creating a community of cooperation among direct support professionals in the organization. The Starfish Program, which has emerged and evolved since 2003 provides an innovative example of how DSPs may become empowered when they are given the tools for understanding the business of providing community supports, and recognition for their role in creating a fiscally sound, consumer-centered community services organization. The CLP’s commitment to the Starfish Program emerged out of an initial evaluation in 2003 that showed low DSP morale, budgetary deficits in most of its programs, and a lack of consistency in the supports they provided. From this honest self-assessment came revitalization of the organization and a drive to support success.

The Starfish Program is premised on the principles of the Open Books Management/Great Game of Business management model. This model advocates for training frontline employees in the basics of business management, including budgetary issues, and rewards employees for taking small steps towards improving business and service outcomes. Ultimately, the goal is not only to create a strong business, but also a workforce that is accountable and committed to exemplary service. The Starfish Program is notable for its implementation of this model in several ways, all in support of CLP’s renewed mission to, “provide quality, mission-based and financially stable services to individuals with disabilities, by involving all levels of employees and by rewarding those employees for their work, their stability and their ideas.”

DSP Empowerment

At the beginning of its workforce development initiative, CLP conducted extensive training with frontline managers about the financial operations of the organization, and with DSPs about the financial operations of their worksite. DSPs were empowered to think about what aspects of their site’s financial management they could reasonably control (groceries, vehicle use, etc.) and set goals for cost reductions. Target budgets and actual expenditures were tracked on a whiteboard in each site so DSPs could see the impact of their efforts, and rewards were given if the site met targets within the budget. In addition, one DSP from each site was invited to join the Staff Advisory Council, a committee within CLP where DSPs and administrators could share concerns and questions and look for solutions. Thus, DSPs were empowered to do what was within their control to successfully manage the organization, with rewards and a sense of ownership as a result.

Improved Training

Another area of need that was identified in the CLP’s self-assessment prior to implementing the Starfish Program was in the area of training. As a result, CLP invested in the College of Direct Support as an integral component of their education program for DSPs. Training benchmarks were set for 90 and 180 days after employment, with additional optional training available to lead each DSP towards NADSP’s DSP-R credential. DSPs and frontline managers were also given additional duties for designing training opportunities and taking the lead in training delivery. Managers were prepared as certified instructors in a number of required training topics (including CPR), giving them ownership of training delivery. Another DSP-driven training initiative created individualized training on the needs of the individuals supported by the agency, resulting in high-quality and consistent personalized supports for each individual using CLP’s services.


While difficult to measure, the greatest outcome to result from the Starfish Program is improved employee morale, which, in turn, has resulted in a more organizational stability and higher quality services. In addition to this, a number of other outcomes have emerged to indicate the success of CLP’s efforts with Starfish:

  • Turnover rates for DSPs have been reduced from 53% when Starfish was implemented in 2003 to just 20% in 2008, a reduction of 33%.
  • Whereas staff retention difficulties resulted in many staff leaving within the first six months of employment before the start of the Starfish Program, 60% of current DSPs have been in their position for a year or more.
  • Hourly wages for DSPs have increased by an average of $1.46 in the past three years.
  • Overtime staffing expenditures were reduced by over 50% in a one year time period, for substantial cost savings to the organization.
  • DSPs at CLP complete more than 3,000 College of Direct Support lessons each year, in addition to significantly increased on-the-job training and training leadership opportunities.