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A New Credentialing Program

"I’m learning a lot and feeling more confident." - Sheena Keogh

For Brandi Buskohl, a direct support professional (DSP) at Black Hills Works (BHW), taking a new credentialing class at work seemed like a no-brainer. Buskohl’s role is to help mentor new DSPs, the people on the front lines at Black Hills Works supporting more than 600 adults with varying disabilities. Their role involves teaching people to learn to cook, clean, do laundry, go to appointments, take medications, socialize, and generally become more independent.

“My job is to show DSPs the proper ways to help the people we support,” said Buskohl. “Through our credentialing program, I’m learning new techniques for training. I’m also currently working on a piece for staff appreciation. When our work environment is happy, the people we support feed off that energy. In my two years at Black Hills Works, I’ve seen the individuals I work with grow leaps and bounds. Working here is life-changing.”

The Black Hills Works DSP credentialing program started earlier this fall. There are three stages to the program with various competencies to master. Each stage takes about a year to complete. Currently, 16 DSPs are enrolled. “This credentialing program is based on a national initiative through National Alliance of Direct Support Professionals (NADSP),” said Gayle Steiger, vice president of human resources. “We tried to get funding through the state, but we were denied. So, we’re doing our own pilot because we think it is important—critical, in fact, to our work.”

DSPs in the program have worked at BHW for at least six months—or have experience in the field. “This is very challenging work—and rewarding too—and the number of people with disabilities is growing. More and more people need our help, and many have co-occurring diagnoses,” said Steiger. “We do a lot of training, but there has never been any kind of certification. This credentialing program offers an industry standard. If the pilot is a success, the goal is that employees would have to go through the program upon hiring.”

Sheena Keogh has worked as a DSP at Black Hills Works for a year and a half. She’s excited to be in the credentialing program, where she truly feels her value. “This program is putting more emphasis on how much we’re needed,” she said. “I didn’t realize how much I meant to people.”

Keogh has a cousin supported by Black Hills Works and an 8-year-old son with special needs. These factors influenced her to want to be a voice for those who couldn’t speak for themselves. She looks forward to every credentialing class, highlighting it on her calendar. Some classes last all day, some last for half a day, and some exist in online modules. Currently, Keogh spends one day a week attending her credentialing class.

“There are always new concepts coming out, so I’m glad the program is three years,” said Keogh. “I’m learning a lot and feeling more confident. I’ve already encouraged three other people I work with to consider applying for the program.”

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