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Defining Heroes: Showing Gratitude for Our Direct Support Professionals

Friday, May 29, 2020
External Author: 
Mike Mutka, Relias
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by Mike Mutka, Chief Product Officer, Relias

Editor’s Note: The following article includes excerpts from remarks delivered by the author at the awards ceremony honoring the 2020 class of Direct Support Professionals of the Year, hosted earlier this month by ANCOR. Watch video of the author’s remarks.

One of the great things about Relias is that our team is very passionate about our mission, which is to support the most vulnerable members of society, and the people that provide their care.

What I love about our folks across the whole company is that they don't just carry that mission statement around in a card in their wallet. They’re very active, which is why we have sponsored this event for seven years. We’re also involved in sponsoring the ANCOR Foundation’s Included. Supported. Empowered. campaign. In our home state, our team members volunteer more hours for North Carolina Special Olympics than any other company in the state. It’s really a shared passion across the organization.

From a personal standpoint, I joined Relias 15 years ago, when I moved my family across the country, because my then four‑year‑old daughter, Meghan, had Autism. She hadn't spoken yet, and we couldn't get the services we needed where we lived. So, we moved, and that's how I got started.

My daughter’s 19 now, and she’s thriving. She’s empowered. She’s getting close to getting her learner’s permit, which is the most terrifying thing that happens to any parent! And a lot of her success is because of tireless work over the years from direct support professionals and caregivers that have really, really helped her.

One of our other co-founders, has an adult stepson who is living and thriving and empowered in a supported living setting, living tremendously independently because of direct support professionals.
So, you could certainly say this is really personal for us. It's really, truly personal.

There’s this quote I love that is often attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, and it goes something like this: "The greatness of a nation can be measured by how it treats the most vulnerable members of society."

I believe that's true. You know, these days, it’s fashionable to call a lot of people “superstars” or “heroes.” As I’ve been thinking about this ceremony, I went back and looked up the definition of a hero, and what I found was this: A hero is a person who is able to combat and overcome adversity through feats of ingenuity, courage and strength.

I'm going to say that one more time: a hero is a person who’s able to combat and overcome adversity through feats of ingenuity, courage and strength.

I try to look for the positive with everything that’s going on right now with the pandemic, and one of the silver linings this whole situation has shown us is what the true definition of a hero is. It’s not the stars of sports and entertainment, who get paid millions of bucks, in all this adulation of worship for playing games and performing. I don't know if you’ve noticed, but all of those people seem a little bit smaller now than they did a few months ago. They don’t seem quite as “larger than life” as they seemed to be back in January.

At the same time, the people that seem a lot more heroic these days are the caregivers. It’s the first responders — the people who are quietly going about doing the things that allow our lives to function safely and smoothly each day, even in a pandemic.

And I think Direct Support Professionals fit this definition of “hero” pretty darn well.

They’re responsible for lots of small victories every day. They’re responsible for victories that require ingenuity, courage and strength. Their work sees no big crowds, no standing ovations, no global or superstardom. None of it.

But these heroes — all of you — you all just quietly go about supporting and empowering people.

When I’m at Relias, sometimes I’ll ask team members to do something they're not happy about. They’ll start whining a little bit or feel a bit under pressure, or they’ll stress about a deadline or something. And when they do that, I always stop and say, “Never forget that your toughest day in the office is a piece of absolute cake compared to the challenges that many of our members overcome, each day.” It’s so important to remember that.

I have to admit, I am disappointed today. I am disappointed because I wish I could be there in person, to high five you, and hug you, and cheer and scream and applaud for you. I wish we could be together so every one of you could end up with a hoarse voice by the end of the night, because of all the cheering.

But because I can’t do that, I’ll leave you with this: for all of you who are receiving awards today, thank you. Thank you, so much, for reminding us all what a hero really looks like.

Mike Mutka is Chief Product Officer for Morrisville, NC-based Relias, ANCOR’s first-ever Diamond Partner. ANCOR extends its gratitude to Relias for underwriting the annual Direct Support Professional of the Year awards program.