Moving Mountains Best Practices
2010 Award Winner

Life and Career Model Program through
the Arc of Delaware County

Walton, NY

The Arc of Delaware County (Delarc), received the 2010 Moving Mountains award to recognize their comprehensive Life and Career Model that focuses on professional development through a highly specified career ladder designed to promote meaningful participation by people with disabilities in their communities. Located in upstate New York, Delarc provides day services and residential options for roughly 300 individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Delarc’s innovative Life and Career Model is the latest stage in a progression of community-oriented service provision that has evolved over 30 years. With a committed nucleus of leadership staff who share a cohesive vision and financial support from the New York State Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, the Life and Career Model was developed beginning with community forums in 2004 to continue Delarc’s concentration on developing relationships and community participation for all individuals who receive supports through the organization.

The Life and Career Model combines seven elements that operate together to promote enriching lives for the people who use supports at Delarc. To make the Life and Career Model work, however, Delarc needed to make changes in its direct support workforce to maximize stability, efficiency, and flexibility. To achieve this, they designed and implemented a highly specialized career ladder, and expanded and formalized DSP training and supervision.

Life Coach Career Ladder

The hallmark of Delarc’s efforts to stabilize and strengthen its direct support workforce is their development of a highly specified career ladder. All direct support workers at Delarc are called Life Coaches, and the career ladder specifies specific duties for different levels of Life Coach, ranging from Life Coach 1 to Life Coach 20. Each level on the career ladder corresponds to a specific job description, pay rate, and coaching plan (similar to a performance review). While all Life Coaches have some responsibility for providing direct service, their specific roles vary by their position on the career ladder.

Each level of Life Coach has an important and specific role in the organization’s work to develop and sustain inclusive and meaningful community participation, as defined in the Life and Career Model. For instance, a person at the rank of Life Coach 1 holds responsibility for providing personal care supports, Life Coach 3s take a lead role in delivering classroom curriculum, and Life Coach 5s and 7s take responsibility for supporting individuals as they pursue community integration activities. In addition, specific Life Coach levels exist for individuals who take a lead in person-centered planning and development of community inclusion opportunities that match the specific interests of individuals. This career ladder helps to provide each DSP a strong focus for their work, and clearly outlines a path that Life Coaches may take as they gain skills to move within the organization.

Training & Supervision

An applicant for a Life Coach position participates in a minimum of three interview sessions of three hours each, including both traditional interview components and interactive segments where applicants interact directly with people using supports. Once hired, training is comprehensive. Training materials have been formalized, and are professionally produced to underscore the commitment to excellence that permeates the training. In addition to general training that is received by all Life Coaches, each Life Coach is provided with intensive training that is designed specifically for their position.

Each Life Coach meets individually with his or her direct supervisor for one hour on a weekly basis. This meeting provides an opportunity to engage in coaching, training, feedback, and mentoring in a supportive relationship. Supervision meetings support the Coaching Plan for each Life Coach, which guides professional development, and helps each Life Coach retain focus on personal goals.


The Life and Career Model has led to outstanding workforce outcomes for The Arc of Delaware County. Among the notable outcomes of the initiative are the following:

  1. The overall turnover rate at Delarc has dropped from 22.75% in 2005 to 12.97% in 2008.
  2. Salary rates for Life Coaches have risen considerably. In 2005, the starting salary for an entry-level DSP was $16,398. In 2008, the salary range for Life Coaches is $18,274 to $39,475, depending on the level of Life Coach, providing opportunities for significant financial mobility within Delarc.
  3. Life Coaches are surveyed twice yearly to gauge their satisfaction with their work. Employee satisfaction has risen steadily in this survey since the inception of the Life and Career Model.
  4. A philosophy of person-centeredness, positivity, and commitment permeates the organization’s Life Coaches and other staff. People who use Delarc’s services and family members of service users also report very high levels of happiness with the quality of supports and the excellence of the staff at Delarc.