UH employees in O'burg to become first graduates from direct support professional apprenticeship program
Wednesday, October 9, 2019 - 9:31 am

OGDENSBURG – A group of nine people employed by United Helpers are set to become the first graduates from New York State’s first Direct Support Professional apprenticeship program.

Meeting prior to the start of the 2019-2020 school year, each of the apprentices in attendance spoke about why they came back for year two of the program.

“I love the challenge,” John Gammon said. “There hasn’t been anything about this program I haven’t absolutely loved. It’s been an incredible thing watching us all learn how to learn again.”

While some of the apprentices have only been out of school for a few years, others have been out 30 years or more. However, St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES Instructor Alex Pacific, who oversees the classroom portion of the program, said he does not believe anyone is ever too old to learn.

Speaking to the group, which also included several first-year apprentices, he said, “I can’t even count the number of times over the years when I’ve had someone tell me they were too old to learn. My oldest student was 87. She came in and earned her high school diploma, and then even went on to college. If she could do it, you can do it too.”

Challenge was a word that came up often during the discussion with both first-year and second-year students. United Helpers Quality Assurance/Continuous Quality Improvement Coordinator Jason Matthie, who oversees the program from the United Helpers Behavioral Health & Life Skills side, said that is by design.

“The program is designed to be a challenge for you, it’s not supposed to be easy, and when you are able to overcome those challenges, you are left with a real sense of achievement,” Matthie said.

Pacific agreed. “This is a college-level class,” he said. “But this is better than a college experience, because it is a supported learning experience. We don’t just throw you to the wolves.”

Pacific said one thing the second year students will notice is this year will be more about them than him, but as long as they continue to work together and support one another, he has no doubt they will all be successful.

“As we move further into the program, it becomes a lot more you-based than me-based,” he said. “However, as you all know we have become a learning family and will continue to support each other both inside and outside of the classroom.”

Looking back to the early days of the program, many of the second-year students recalled their struggles, but offered words of encouragement to the new students.

“I wanted to quit on the first day,” said Patrick Flagg. “But after I thought about it, I wanted to continue on and become an example for my daughter to show her not to quit when things get tough.”

Patricia Amo recalls crying and debating the same thing.

“I cried on the first day, but as the class progressed my self-esteem improved and I realized that I could do it,” she said.

The second-students were also quick to offer their assistance to the program’s newcomers.

“Come to us or come to Alex. You are not in this alone,” said Deb Smith, who is the program’s longest tenured DSP with more than 30 years of service.

The DSP Apprenticeship Program was developed as a partnership between United Helpers Behavioral Health & Life Skills, St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES, and the New York State Department of Labor.

By the time students complete the program and earn their journeyman papers, they will have completed 288 hours of classroom instruction and nearly 4,000 hours of on the job training across seven different areas of focus.

In addition to receiving journeyman papers, which will be recognized anywhere in the U.S., each of the apprentices will also receive an increase in their base pay.

For more information on how you could become a DSP, visit www.unitedhelpers.com/employment. For information specific to the apprenticeship program, please contact [email protected].