Moving Mountains Best Practices
2010 Award Winner Two

Every Day Heroes/Master Worker Program
through the Adirondack Arc

Tupper Lake, NY

The Adirondack Arc, a community-based residential services provider supporting people with intellectual and other disabilities in upstate New York, is recognized for their achievements in the training and career development of direct support professionals (DSPs) through the Master Worker program. This intensive outcome oriented process is designed to result in more competent and committed DSPs and increased quality of life of people being supported. Through the Master Worker program DSPs and people being supported partner to embark upon a learning journey to increase opportunities for people with disabilities to be valued members of their communities. The Adirondack Arc measures individual outcomes using the Council of Quality and Leadership (CQL) Performance Indicators. These performance indicators have reflected continuous improvement in outcomes for people with disabilities since the implementation of program.

Career Development

The Adirondack Arc implements a three-tiered career development program that takes place over a number of years, and can lead to the attainment of a Bachelors Degree. The first tier of training is completed on-site at the agency and includes three phases, 1) College of Direct Support, 2) Learning Journey training, and 3) Plan Facilitator training. Completion of training through this tier articulates into 10 college credits in the Human Service Program at the local community college. The second tier consists of an additional 20 credits paid for by Adirondack Arc to receive an Associate’s Degree from North Country Community College. The third tier of career development promotes continued learning by offering tuition reimbursement and other organizational support such as flexible hours to earn a Bachelor’s degree through Empire State College. The Adirondack Arc also promotes the professional development of DSPs by supporting attendance at events including DSP Conferences, Direct Support of New York State (DSPANYS) meetings and Inclusion Institutes that feature prominent, internationally known facilitators. Each of these tiers of training prepares the DSP to assume greater responsibility in the organization and realize increased involvement in the decisions that affect people being supported.

Master Worker Training

The Master Worker training, which is the keystone for Adirondack Arc’s workforce development efforts, is an opportunity for DSPs to challenge themselves to commit to the profession and improve the supports they provide. DSPs self-select to participate in this process, and are supported by all levels of management and leadership if they choose to take the challenge. The challenge begins by completing 59 lessons in the College of Direct Support. The DSP may then choose to proceed to the next challenge, participating in the formal Master Worker training, including the Learning Journey component based on the Make a Difference curriculum by John O’Brien and Beth Mount. The Learning Journey takes place over the course of 10 weeks. During this time DSPs partner with a person being supported to engage in a process of exploration, with the goal of increased participation and meaningful contribution of the person being supported. Key factors to successful community inclusion have been authentic learning partnerships, strength of relationship between a DSP and the person being supported, and strengths-based supports. Upon completion of the Learning Journey, DSPs can choose to move forward to the next level of training, the Plan Facilitator training. DSPs who complete these challenges receive a new title and a wage increase at the completion of each level of training.


Positive outcomes of this tiered training program are evidenced through both DSP retention indicators and quality of life outcomes of persons being supported. Through this value-driven training DSPs experience increased competency in providing individualized supports and increased leadership within the organization. Since the implementation of the Master Worker training program in 2008 DSP retention rates have continuously increased. To date, 30 of the 40 DSPs who have completed the Master Worker training remain employed by the organization. The turnover rate for direct support professionals who have completed this course is 5% lower than the turnover rate agency wide.

Arc Adirondack has been accredited through the Council on Quality and Leadership (CQL) since 1999. Performance indicators have been created by Arc through a process of grouping sets of CQL personal outcome measures. Compared to CQL national averages, Arc Adirondack consistently measures 2-5% above “Best in Class,” a performance level set by the CQL that identifies an average range of the top scorers in personal outcomes. When compared to the national average, Arc Adirondack consistently outperforms other accredited organizations. In the area of self-direction, the “Best in Class” is 81%, Arc Adirondack achieved a score of 91% in 2010, for example. High scores across CQL Personal Outcome Measures suggests the Master Working training program has led to systems change throughout the organization resulting in improved quality of life of persons receiving supports.