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MOHR Video Gallery

MOHR celebrates Direct Support Professionals Week, state winners

The Minnesota Organization for Habilitation and Rehabilitation (MOHR) celebrates the state's top direct support professionals for 2023 DSP Week -
September 10 to 16. The national awards program is organized by ANCOR, a national association of disability service providers.

Every year, MOHR honors exceptional individuals who have gone above and beyond to support people with disabilities and to advance the profession. More on the 2023 winners:

Enrichment Focus – Metro
Lisa Hartman, PAI
Lead Direct Support Professional

“This is one of the only occupations where you can come to work and do arts and crafts.” – Lisa Hartman

Lisa Hartman has worked in disability services for three decades, and with PAI for nearly five years. In her role with PAI, Lisa helps clients explore art in various forms and expressions while supporting their unique goals. For example, one individual displayed an especially enthusiastic interest in tie dye.

Lisa supported her in creating tie-dye art that was featured in a recent exhibition at the White Bear Center for the Arts. Lisa is proud to be a DSP because it gives her the power to make a difference in people’s lives. Seeing individuals persevere and progress has kept her in the profession for all these years, but Lisa’s commitment to the DSP community is also personal. “I have a twin brother with a disability,” says Lisa. “He inspires me. I try to make myself a little better each day, thinking about him.”

"I’m planning to visit the Black Hills and Yellowstone National Park with my brother this summer.” – Lisa Hartman

Lisa Hartman, above, pictured at right with MOHR President Julie Johnson.

Enrichment Focus – Greater Minnesota
Michael Walker,  PHASE Industries
DSP Lead 

“Over the years, I see clients change from their shoulders slumped forward to walking around with more of a swagger. I love being a part of that process where we help people find themselves and be happy with what they’re doing.” - Mike Walker

Fourteen years ago, Michael Walker decided to retire from his 40-year career in highway heavy construction and instead put his energy into serving his community. Now at the age of 73, Michael is a constant source of support for clients at PHASE – Industries, Inc. One of his biggest impacts was the creation of the Heritage Barnwood program, which consists of tearing down barns, harvesting the wood, then repurposing it in the wood shop. The program has seen countless custom orders for tables, chairs, flower boxes and burnt wood lettering plaques. After completion of the finished products, Michael takes participants to local shows, where they set up a display and sell the products. In addition to the Heritage Barnwood program, Michael regularly invites program participants to his farm to interact with his horses and his many dogs.

“I wish they knew the reward that they can gain from their position. Clients are also here to do what we do - build character and get that reward back.” – Mike Walker

Photo: Above, Michael Walker, at left, with PHASE Industries Executive Director Tim Schmutzer

Employment Service- Metro
Ashton Pappas, Opportunity Partners
Lead Employment Specialist

“I feel proud watching their relationships with coworkers and management teams evolve. I can see that change in the coworkers and management when they get to know the employee who I am supporting.” - Ashton Pappas

As a Lead Employment Specialist at Opportunity Partners, Ashton Pappas helps dozens of people with disabilities find and retain competitive, community jobs each year, and takes the extra steps needed to assist individuals to support employment success. She goes above and beyond for the individuals she serves, even if that means stepping out of her comfort zone, and often seeks out community resources that will help an individual succeed. For example, Ashton has connected people to classes to learn welding or receive a certification in para-education, leading to new jobs and greater career stability. She has also advocated for individuals to ask for wage increases when she observed their pay had fallen below market rates, and guided the development of work schedules so individuals can work when and how they are most productive. Importantly, Ashton is also a mentor to new staff at Opportunity Partners. She has created trainings to help peers master tools that make their work more successful.

“Our job is not to help the people that we’re supporting fit into a system. We are opening the system to the people that we support. That perspective is a shift that I’ve had since I started working as a DSP. It has changed the way that I work in big ways.” – Ashton Pappas

Employment Service – Greater Minnesota
Jill Belland, Functional Industries
Employment Specialist

“Don’t forget the joy in the people. We serve people who are fun to hang out with - really enjoy them.” – Jill Belland

Jill Belland has worked as an Employment Specialist in Functional Industries' Vocational Rehab Service department for almost four years. She comes from a career in social work, but transitioned into disability services so she could be more hands on when providing services. Her passion is highlighted through her "outside of the box" thinking and her person-centered approach. For example, Jill recently received a call from a social worker about a hearing-impaired individual who needed services. Before there was even a referral for services to Functional Industries, Jill received consent to speak with support team members to discuss the process, accommodations and support that could be provided. For Jill, being a DSP is more than just a job. She loves supporting and listening to clients while watching them grow and discover who they are and what they can achieve.

“My family. My parents, brother, significant other, and extended family…they are an inspiration to me.”
Jill Belland

Photo: Jill Belland, at right, with MOHR President Julie Johnson.



Employment Service – Greater Minnesota
Cheryl Ray, Trillium Works!
Job Coach

“My favorite part of my job is the interaction with the clients and staff. I am proud that we get to be by their side trying different things and finding what works for them” - Cheryl Ray

Cheryl is not only an incredibly dedicated job coach, but also a strong advocate for person-centered service delivery. For example, she recently helped a client take a huge leap in his ability to be independent by teaching him how to ride the bus. Cheryl supported that individual by helping him to learn the different bus routes, ride the bus and walk to work with from the bus stop. She even advocated for the individual to have different work hours so he could take the bus more safely. Cheryl helped a different client practice work skills by volunteering at a local animal shelter. When they were ready to look for a job, Cheryl assisted with job development, interviews, and reaching out to potential employers. Now, Cheryl gives the client rides to work, helps with orientation and computer work, and coaches the client each day. In addition to being a proud member of the DSP community, Cheryl is a proud tribal member of the Fond du Lac band of Lake Superior Chippewa. 

“They can do it; we just have to figure out ways that they can do it.” – Cheryl Ray