Jacksonville, Florida – MEET WALTER MCDOWELL, PINE CASTLE DIRECT SUPPORT PROFESSIONAL
Direct Support Professionals are a vital part of our community, our organization, and the workforce at large. The people who fill this important role make immeasurable differences in the lives of adults with intellectual and developmental differences. We must compensate these hard-working and dedicated team members in a way that supports them in their careers, is competitive, and enables them to be successful.
Walter McDowell has been with Pine Castle for six years. He began as a Direct Support Professional (DSP) and is now a Lead DSP. Walter is incredibly empathetic, genuine, and authentic. He uses his understanding of people’s emotions to find a balance with our participants, knowing when he should push them further or be tougher and when they need additional support. He works to always remain positive, calm, and focused, especially when facing stressful situations, and he is able to transfer that sense of calm to those around him.
All of these things work together to empower Walter to build stronger connections with both the participants he serves and his coworkers. He is a dedicated team player. If something is needed of him, he gets it done without complaint, because he knows that by being a strong team player, his work will benefit every participant Pine Castle serves.
Walter’s focus is always on supporting the participants in his shop. He works to ensure their days are filled with activities that are developmentally appropriate, interesting, and able to be completed safely, and advocates for their needs with leadership.
He recently identified concerns about some Lego-style blocks that were in his shop. He approached leadership to identify the blocks as an activity that was not developmentally meaningful to the participants in his shop and that posed a safety hazard, due to their small size. He presented a plan for a different style of block that would be easier to manipulate, developmentally appropriate, and much safer.
His person-centered focus led him to help one participant increase their ability to self-regulate through the implementation of communication cards. This participant is now able to use the cards to identify why they are upset and what they need, resulting in a notable decrease in aggressive behaviors and enabling this participant to remain in Walter’s shop, instead of having to be moved to a different ratio. He is patient and empathetic, taking the time to learn what each person is facing and what tools they may need to solve challenges.
Walter excels at creating relationships with individuals who have difficulty connecting with others by building trust. In one case, he spent extra time working with a participant and getting to know their needs. Because of the trust Walter built, when this participant needs to work with other staff members, Walter is able to communicate that the new person is safe, resulting in the participant’s willingness to interact, therefore increasing the number of ongoing positive relationships this participant has been able to maintain.
Walter works to cultivate a sense of community within his shop, building independence, treating each person with respect, and encouraging peer mentorship. Walter builds relationships that allow each person to be as independent as possible, providing varying levels of support based on each person’s needs. He encourages each participant to choose who to interact with, offers opportunities for participants from his shop and others to eat lunch together, and empowering each person to choose the activities they will participate in. When there is a game or activity on campus, Walter always brings his group, never wanting to limit their participation because of a perceived inability, finding ways to help each person be successful.
Walter has shown great initiative in the past couple of years. After becoming skilled in his role as a DSP, he approached leadership and asked how he could work toward becoming a Lead DSP. To achieve this goal, he advanced his skills through our DSP training program and became a Lead this year.
Beyond his professional development, Walter takes the lead on most projects in his shop and makes sure they are completed properly. When a coworker had to step down from leading our Safety Patrol group, he asked if the group had someone in place to keep it going and assumed the leadership responsibility for the group.
Walter is always willing to try new things and learn new skills that will positively impact those he supports, working to make new projects successful. When the team was asked to introduce new visual communication cards to help participants express their needs, he ensured that they were implemented by every DSP who interacted with the participants in his shop. He has really grown as a leader and as an advocate, not only for our participants and their needs, but for himself as a professional.
Participant wellbeing is Walter’s top priority. By nature, he is a protector and defender. He is able to look at a task and adapt it to help the participants in his care complete it successfully and independently. When he is confronted with a challenge he cannot solve, he has sought out the assistance of our occupational therapists to help come up with solutions that empower and support participants.
He works to learn as much about each participant as he can. This information helps to inform his decisions, allows him to advocate for them, and make changes that support each individual in the ways they need. When people who are not familiar with the individuals he serves are in his shop, Walter will guide them on how to interact with his team in order to protect the gains each person has attained. This knowledge also helps him anticipate the needs of those in his shop, enabling him to “read the room” in a way many DSPs cannot. He never sacrifices the wellbeing of the group for one person, but can tell when someone’s reaction will affect others and is able to adjust the situation to protect the group’s experience.
Walter goes out of his way to ensure he is consistently producing high quality work, championing projects and creating buy in with others, and generally working to make Pine Castle a better place. While developing and training on our new curriculum, Walter was the first to ask questions and try to learn more about the new process in order to support our participants. His goal is always to make sure that the participants have what they need to succeed, no matter how big or small, and he works to make sure everyone is contributing to their success and the success of projects.
The pandemic has resulted in a very challenging couple of years, but Walter has been a positive force among our staff, encouraging participants and coworkers alike, while actively working to maintain high morale. His energy is infectious and he is an amazing asset to the Pine Castle team.
Walter is just one of thousands of DSPs in Florida who are doing this vital work to help adults with differences to be more successful, reach their goals, and integrate into their communities.