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One Team – Michael Mersinger, DSP


Welcome to One Team, a series of Q&As shining a light on outstanding members of Citizen Advocates’ 800-strong workforce that stretches from Lake Champlain to Lake Ontario.

Michael Mersinger has been a direct support professional (DSP) at Citizen Advocates for 24 years, working in both community and residential settings. He currently works at Citizen Advocates’ site-based Day Habilitation program (Day Hab) in Malone where people with intellectual and developmental disabilities acquire, retain and improve a variety of skills while fostering friendships with peers.

Below is his story in his own words.

How did you become a direct support professional?

I’m from the Malone area and have always known about Citizen Advocates because my aunt lived in one of the residences.

When I was little, I would see groups [from Citizen Advocates] at the Franklin County Fair, out at the concerts. I told myself I could never do that job but here I am, doing that job. Back then I didn’t think I could take care of anybody, but as I got older, I gained life experience. I took care of family members who were sick, I adopted a little girl and took care of her. I became a caregiver.

For those who are unfamiliar, what are a DSP’s job duties?

We teach independent living and social skills. The goal is for our clients to become as independent as possible. At Day Hab, the program is broken up into rooms and the rooms into groups. I work directly with five clients in a group.

We always have a wonderful time. We get to have fun and do activities. We take clients to the duck pond or go for walks in the park. It’s rewarding to see the clients flourishing and learning new things.

DSP Michael Mersinger works with Lucinda Fish to engage Christopher Riley and Tiffany Maiorana in a craft project.

Michael Mersinger (standing) and Lucinda Fish (right) engage Christopher Riley and Tiffany Maiorana in a craft project at Citizen Advocates’ Day Habilitation program in Malone.

What is the key to being a successful DSP?

You have to be able to adapt, because the job is always changing. You’re always learning. I’ve been here for 24 years and I’m still learning something new every day.

Covid was a big learning experience because it changed all our daily routines. During the pandemic, Day Hab services largely moved into the residences, significantly decreasing our normal interactions with individuals. After pandemic restrictions eased and clients were allowed to return to the Day Hab facility, it was a big shock. We had to relearn habits and skill levels for individuals who we’ve known for decades.

Working in community services can be challenging. How do you practice self-care when times get stressful?

Sometimes you just have to step outside for a few minutes, take a breath and put yourself back together. If you can’t go outside, you can always find a quiet corner of the room.

What advice do you have for someone who’s considering a career as a DSP?

You have to have patience and be willing to really care for people. If you’re a caring, giving person this job is right for you.

What do you do for fun outside of work?

I enjoy being at home and being outdoors when the weather is nice.

If you’re interested in learning more about becoming a direct support professional at Citizen Advocates, visit