Archive for ‘Voices Institute’

Farewell and Thank You

Posted by on June 23rd, 2014 at 10:09 am | 21 Comments »

Dear Friend of DCA,

group shot panoramic for web

With your support, Direct Care Alliance has been the national advocacy voice of direct care workers for almost ten years.  We can all be proud of what we have accomplished together.

Inspired by the vision of former Executive Director Leonila Vega, we built a nationwide advocacy network of direct care workers through the Voices Institute and other means. These worker leaders are eloquent about the value of their work and have a passion for improving our system of long-term services and supports.

We influenced legislation and regulation, taking important steps at the state and federal level to improve the health and economic security of direct care workers, invest in the workforce and enhance training and advancement opportunities. A key recent victory was the final home care rule extending basic labor protections–including federal minimum wage and overtime pay–to home care workers nationwide.

We developed a national credentialing program that is an important step toward building recognition of personal care work. We assisted many direct care workers in finding health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. We also provided technical and financial assistance to direct care worker state associations.

Unfortunately, the world has changed, and our income has decreased every year. The board has grappled with this over the years, trying to trim costs while maintaining services and supports for workers, but we don’t have enough funding to continue operating. We regretfully inform you that DCA staff operations will cease and our offices in Washington, DC and New York will close by June 30.  Continue reading »

Why It’s Crucial to Make the Link Between Better Jobs and Better Care

Posted by on May 5th, 2014 at 1:51 pm | 3 Comments »

Deborah Little is the chair of the Sociology department at Adelphi University. Her chapter in Caring on the Clock, a book on direct care work that is due out this fall from Rutgers, looks at DCA’s work to support and empower direct care worker advocates. She recently talked to DCA’s Elise Nakhnikian about what strategies are most effective and why.

Voices Institute students at work with an instructor (far left).

Voices Institute students at work with an instructor (far left).

What got you interested in this topic?

I was hired by DCA to do an evaluation of the pilot senior CNA project that started three years ago. As part of that, Leonila [Vega] invited me to attend a national Voices Institute in Wisconsin, because five participants from the senior CNA project attended that year. At the Voices Institute, I got very interested in the organizing and empowerment work that DCA was doing. I took extensive field notes during the Voices Institute, and spent a lot of time speaking with participants in informal interviews. After that, I expanded my research to look at the DCA blog and the literature on organizing direct care workers.

What got me interested in this topic was a moment that I talk about at the beginning of the paper, where one of the workers at the Voices Institute was willing to give up a wage increase because she thought it would be difficult for her clients to afford the extra cost. I thought, how can this be? How can she not readily see the connection between the quality of her job and the quality of the care she is giving? And how can she be so willing to sacrifice her own needs and the needs of her family? Continue reading »

Greater Houston DCA Members Take Time to Recharge

Posted by on April 21st, 2014 at 4:58 pm | Comments Off on Greater Houston DCA Members Take Time to Recharge
Carla Washington

Carla Washington

“You touch with your heart long before you touch with your hand,” said one of the almost 200 participants attending the Care for Elders 17th Annual Direct Care Workers Conference in Houston, Texas, earlier this month.

Direct care workers came together to recharge, reconnect and remember why the care and services they provide to the elderly and people with disabilities is vital work, provided not only in Houston but by more than 300,000 direct care workers across the state. Members of Greater Houston Direct Care Alliance  (GHDCA) start planning early to ensure they’re available to attend the annual conference, because GHDCA’s members recognize the importance of taking care of themselves so they can provide quality care, services and support to their consumers. Continue reading »

Standing up for Myself and My Fellow Workers by Joining DCA

Posted by on October 18th, 2013 at 4:43 pm | 2 Comments »
Mohan Varghese

Mohan Varghese

The first time I contacted Direct Care Alliance was after I was told by my employer that I would be accompanying him on the road for trips that lasted several days and would be paid for only 12 hours a day of my time. My immediate thought was: I will contact the Department of Labor (DOL) and they will take care of it.

But when I contacted DOL, I learned that they could not help because we home care workers were shut out of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) under the companionship exemption. I searched online to find a way to stand up for myself and my fellow workers, who put in long hard hours doing skilled tasks only to be mischaracterized as companions or elder sitters.

I found DCA during my search. Continue reading »

DCA’s Voices Institute Goes to Brooklyn

Posted by on October 8th, 2013 at 9:14 am | Comments Off on DCA’s Voices Institute Goes to Brooklyn
Carla Washington (front right) with the Brookyn attendees

Carla Washington (front right) with the Brookyn attendees.

What an amazing group of direct care workers I got to meet on September 25 and 26, at a Voices Institute training for CenterLight Best Choice Home Care in Brooklyn, New York! Direct Care Alliance Executive Director Carla Washington and I led the training for 19 home health aides, who had a total of 103 years of direct care experience between them.

As we did our introductions on the first day, the group shared their challenges and the passion for their work that makes them get up every morning to do it all over again, with smiles on their faces. One worker talked about a colleague who was also there, saying she went above and beyond the call of duty by taking a long subway ride and then walking 20 minutes to get to one of her clients. The woman she was talking about said: “But this is my job! I would do that for any one of my clients.”  Continue reading »

A Texas Progress Report from DCA’s Executive Director

Posted by on September 23rd, 2013 at 8:13 am | Comments Off on A Texas Progress Report from DCA’s Executive Director
Carla D. Washington

Carla D. Washington

Ninety-seven years old. One hundred years old. One hundred and four years old. These are ages of just three of the clients that I had the privilege of meeting while spending time with the Greater Houston Direct Care Alliance (GHDCA). It was an eye-opening and humbling experience to be invited into the assisted living facility where they live to observe the skilled care provided lovingly by Dream Care home care workers.

The owner of Dream Care Home Care Agency, LaDonna Williams, considers her work much more than a business. It’s a life she’s chosen, and she instills this same feeling in others by always making herself available for consultation with her workers, her clients’ families, and the staff of the facilities where some of her clients live. Most importantly, she models for her workers why this profession of theirs demands devotion and deserves respect. Continue reading »

How I Became a Direct Care Worker Advocate

Posted by on August 12th, 2013 at 12:22 pm | 3 Comments »
Sunny Smith

Sunny Smith

I’ve worked as a professional direct care worker for more than 25 years, off and on (mostly on), between other jobs. In-home caregiving is where I’m most happy. I feel, as most of us do, that it’s a calling. But just because we love our work doesn’t mean we should have to live in poverty, go on food stamps or rely on Medicaid. We deserve basic benefits like paid sick time and affordable health care. Many of us are left out of those basic benefits due to a lack of understanding, appreciation and respect for our work. And, through no fault of our own, lack of training often causes safety issues for our clients and ourselves.

About five years ago, I was offered the opportunity to join the Arizona Direct Care Worker Association, a grassroots professional organization. I said yes immediately and wrote a check for a whopping $10 a year. You see, I knew what it means to be a part of an association. Yes, the benefits I now had access to were worthwhile, but more than that, I wanted to be part of a professional association just like any other professional, from nurses to attorneys to social workers. Continue reading »

Voices Institute Coming to Wisconsin

Posted by on July 2nd, 2013 at 9:00 am | Comments Off on Voices Institute Coming to Wisconsin
March 5, 2013 Tx medicaid day: DCA at the capitol

Voices Institute Graduates at a Medicaid rally in Texas

DCA and the Wisconsin Direct Caregiver Alliance are co-hosting the Leonila Vega Voices Institute on September 18-19, 2013 in Lake Delton, WI. The two-day training helps direct care workers develop their leadership, advocacy, and organizational development skills, so they can lead the movement to improve direct care jobs. As a part of this training, participants will go to the State Capitol to advocate for policies that will benefit direct care workers and the people they serve.

The Leonila Vega Voices Institute provides leadership and empowerment training that prepares participants to educate policymakers about the issues that are important to them, build local and statewide worker associations, and develop fundraising and public speaking skills. Click here for an application to the Wisconsin Voices Institute and learn more about the Leonila Vega Voices Institute.

Honor Dr. King’s Vision by Giving Home Care Workers Our Due

Posted by on January 21st, 2013 at 3:57 pm | 2 Comments »

By LaDonna Williams and Lucille Daniels

LaDonna Williams

Lucille Daniels

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said: “all mankind is tied together; all life is interrelated, and we are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” His words were never truer than in the case of home care workers like us, who provide hands-on care, services and support to millions of Americans.

For one thing, there’s a clear link between the quality of our jobs and the quality of care we can provide. We see a lot of people come and go in our profession, and we know how hard that is on their clients, who have to keep getting used to new caregivers. But we also know how hard it can be to commit to this profession, even when you love it, if the pay is so poor it’s hard to provide for your own family.  Continue reading »

Growing the Movement in 2013

Posted by on January 3rd, 2013 at 10:19 am | Comments Off on Growing the Movement in 2013

Tracy Dudzinski

As I look back on all that DCA has accomplished in 2012, I can’t wait to see what we’ll get done in 2013. I truly believe that the growing wave of aging baby boomers is about to meet up with the growing pressure from DCA and our many wonderful allies to create a perfect storm of awareness, a storm that will finally push our issue—the need for better care quality for elders and people with disabilities and better job quality for the direct care workers they depend on—onto the national agenda.

2012 was a busy year. Our movement lost a great champion when Leonila passed away in November, but we will celebrate her legacy by remaining committed to training and supporting direct care worker leaders and growing our movement to make their voices heard and direct care a respected profession. Continue reading »

Voices Institute Training Empowers, Inspires Arizona Workers

Posted by on December 4th, 2012 at 2:11 am | 2 Comments »

Read DCA’s press release

Arizona Voices Institute 2012 attendees and trainers with State Sen. Paula Aboud (front row, 2nd from R).

“I want to be with the person I assist, doing home care, helping them lead the life they want to live, and I want to be respected for doing that,” said home care worker Pamela O’Neal at the Arizona Voices Institute 2012.

Pamela was one of the direct care workers who honed their leadership and advocacy skills on November 14-16 at the event, a state-level version of DCA’s intensive, interactive national Voices Institute training program.

“This training was a great opportunity for direct care workers to learn about the numerous opportunities that exist right now for them to tell their stories and make their voices heard on

a variety of issues that have a significant impact on themselves, their families and their colleagues,” says DCA National Advocacy Coordinator Jessica Brill Ortiz, one of the trainers for the event. Continue reading »

Paying Tribute to Leonila

Posted by on November 29th, 2012 at 12:46 pm | 9 Comments »

The following tributes are excerpted from messages shared between Leonila Vega’s friends and colleagues in the days immediately following her passing.

Leonila Vega

I’m sorry to say that early Monday morning Leonila died peacefully in her sleep from the effects of the cancer she called “the Monster.” I believe she decided to fight “the Monster” another way by going to a better place where there is no illness and disease, where she can watch over all of us and continually reach out to us through our memories of her and how she envisioned and communicated ways to make sure that the DCA remain the greatest advocate of direct care workers in the country.

I will miss Leonila tremendously, as I am certain you all will. For the twenty-five years I’ve known her, I always knew that she was one of a kind.

Brad Nelson, Leonila’s partner and caregiver, on Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Leonila believed in me before I believed in myself. I remember the first time I met her. I was in awe of her confidence and knowledge of the issues direct care workers face. I sat quietly in that meeting. I kept seeing her at meetings and I kept sitting quietly. Then I attended the first Voices Institute. I can remember having to write a speech, and I was scared to death. I was fortunate enough to be in the group who gave our speeches to Leonila. She planted a seed that day and continued to encourage me at every opportunity. Continue reading »

Honoring Leonila

Posted by on November 29th, 2012 at 12:12 pm | 2 Comments »

Leonila and Solín in June, 2012

On November 19, 2012, DCA lost a visionary leader and undying source of inspiration with the passing of Leonila Vega. This is a very sad time for all of us, but she also leaves us with much to celebrate, including the legacy of worker leadership and empowerment that became DCA’s identity under her direction.

Fourteen months ago, Leonila took a medical leave from DCA. She had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer, and she decided to receive care in Milwaukee so that she could be with Brad Nelson, her partner and caregiver, while she fought the disease she called “the Monster.” Though she intended to return to DCA, we felt her absence immediately.  Continue reading »

Texas Direct Care Workers Find Unity, Voices at Houston VI

Posted by on October 2nd, 2012 at 2:21 am | 3 Comments »

Download DCA’s press release about the event

Houston Voices Institute attendees with DCA's Jessica Brill Ortiz (far L) and Brenda Nachtway (far R)

Direct care workers from the Houston area strengthened their leadership and advocacy skills on September 27 and 28 at the Houston Voices Institute Leadership Training Program. A state-level version of the DCA’s Voices institute, the training covered personal and professional development with an emphasis on advocating for improvements to direct care jobs.

The direct care workers who participated were chosen for their leadership skills and commitment to their work. Among the speakers they heard from was Texas Representative Garnet Coleman, who urged them to make their concerns about their profession known to their elected representatives. “His intervention was eye-opening to all the possibilities out there, if only we can use our voices,” said CNA Alfonsina Bush of the Representative’s presentation.

For more on what attendees learned, read the comments some left on DCA’s blog. Continue reading »

Voices Institute Grads Speak Out in Miami Herald

Posted by on August 13th, 2012 at 9:57 pm | Comments Off on Voices Institute Grads Speak Out in Miami Herald

DCA members and Voices Institute graduates Elizabeth Castillo, Tim Doe, and Joan Leah provided powerful quotes and facts for a Miami Herald feature story  last week on the U.S. Department of Labor ruling that would grant home care workers minimum wage and overtime pay.

The story explains why DCA and other advocates for rule are concerned that the rule may not go into effect at all if it is not enacted soon. Home care worker Castillo of El Paso, Texas, who does not qualify for overtime and makes barely more than minimum wage, talks about the long hours she logs and her need to rely on food stamps to supplement her income in weeks when she can’t get more than 40 hours of work. “I don’t know how I do it, but I do,“ she says.

Doe, a founding member of the Arizona Direct Care Worker Association’s Leadership Circle who lives in Tucson, must also work long hours without overtime pay to make ends meet and support his three children. “Emotionally, it’s so hard. But I don’t have a choice,” he says. Continue reading »

The Voices Institute Comes to Florida

Posted by on June 18th, 2012 at 2:10 pm | 1 Comment »

Florida Voices Institute attendees

Direct care workers from across the state honed their leadership and advocacy skills on June 14 and 15 in Haines City at the Florida Voices Institute, a state-level version of DCA’s intensive, interactive national Voices Institute training program.

The training covered both personal and professional development, with attendees learning how to make their voices heard in policy discussions.

Download a news release about the event.

New Mexico Direct Care Workers Hone Leadership, Advocacy Skills

Posted by on June 11th, 2012 at 7:56 pm | 1 Comment »

New Mexico Voices Institute attendees and instructors with Rep. Lucky Varela (in sunglasses).

“I left at the end of our two-day training with a feeling of accomplishment and hope, knowing the workers in attendance had committed to the cause,” says Brenda Nachtway, DCA’s national field director, of a leadership and advocacy training event she participated in last week.  “As one of the attendees, Fermina Lopez, put it: ‘Though I may not speak English well, I leave today knowing that, with the coalition and the DCA, I now have a voice. I will walk beside you in this fight to make change.'”

Brenda was talking about the New Mexico Voices Institute, a state-level version of an intensive, interactive national training program for direct care worker leaders that was held on June 7 and 8 in Albuquerque. To read more about it, download our press release.

DCA to Build on Momentum in 2012

Posted by on January 3rd, 2012 at 1:41 pm | 2 Comments »

DCA Board Chair Tracy Dudzinski

Dear Friends,

Thanks to the hard work of our direct care worker leaders and allies, we made a lot of progress in 2011, and there are many opportunities for continued success in 2012.

As DCA’s board chair, I am incredibly proud of the leadership and vision of DCA’s executive director, Leonila Vega, as well as DCA’s staff, members, volunteers, and allies. 2011 was a year of many milestones for the direct care workforce and the Direct Care Alliance, and I’d like to share some of the highlights with you. They only scratch the surface of what we accomplished in 2011, but they’re proof that our movement is growing stronger and direct care workers’ voices are being heard. I also want to tell you about some of the things we have planned for 2012.

The most exciting developments in 2011 were the responses we got from both the U.S. Department of Labor and Congress to the persistent advocacy of DCA and its allies to extend basic labor protections to home care workers. Just last month, DOL proposed a rule that would extend minimum wage and overtime protections to home care workers. And earlier last year, the Direct Care Job Quality Improvement Act was introduced by Senator Casey (PA) in the Senate and Representative Sánchez (CA) in the House. Continue reading »

Improving Care Quality by Developing Direct Care Worker Leaders

Posted by on November 29th, 2011 at 11:12 am | 2 Comments »

Beverly Faulkner

Developing direct care workers’ leadership skills can be an effective way of improving job and care quality in long-term care, according to early feedback from a collaboration between the Direct Care Alliance and four New York City-area nursing homes. The program is part of a pilot being conducted by DCA, the Beth Abraham Family of Health Services in New York City, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

The project partners developed a new job description for certified nursing assistants (CNAs), creating an intermediary Senior Resident Care Associate position between the traditional CNA position and licensed nurses. The main goal is to develop direct care workers’ leadership skills so they can better advocate for improved working conditions, career advancement, and respect. The new position essentially creates a CNA career track, allowing seasoned nursing assistants to take on more responsibility and earn more pay without having to abandon the profession.

According to sociologist Deborah Little, PhD, the program’s evaluator, 30 CNA leaders—“the cream of the cream of the crop”—will be trained over the next three years. The first ten came from two of Beth Abe’s four homes. Each of the remaining two homes will contribute ten more. Training began for the first group this fall and begins for the last group next spring.

Continue reading »