News & Events

Maria Fernandes Honored as ANCOR New York DSP of the Year

When Maria Fernandes goes to work, she wants to make sure everyone feels respected.

“At the end of the day, it’s really about wanting to make sure that everyone feels like they’re important,” said Fernandes, a direct support professional who works in Carmel, NY. “It’s about integrity. Everyone wants to know that they matter.”

Fernandes came to Ability Beyond four years ago during the height of the pandemic, and stood out, quickly earning promotion to assistant residential manager. Her compassion and dedication to the work were notable. Nominated by her peers in direct care, Fernandes has been named the 2024 New York State Direct Support Professional of the Year by ANCOR, the leading national voice for community-based disability services. She was selected out of more than 500 nominees.

“Maria is phenomenal and has been such a blessing to the program” said Services Manager Kyan Francis. “Not only to those we serve, but to the staff as well. Maria is driven and dedicated to always ensuring everyone is important and feels important in their unique way.”

Fernandes found a home with Ability Beyond at a time of transition in her life. Her children had grown older, and she wanted to go back to work in a job where she could help people.

Finding Her Path

That opportunity came when she saw an advertisement for Ability Beyond.

“It took me a few months before I called the number, but I couldn’t believe they hired me,” she said. “I’m really blessed to be working with so many good people. Ability Beyond has a very supportive environment.”

Fernandes said she didn’t have a lot of experience when she first came to Ability Beyond, but it’s the words of Jane Davis, the chief executive officer, that stay with her.

“She told me one day that if you’re a good mother, you can do this job well,” Fernandes said. “I wasn’t a perfect mom. Like many parents, I wish there were things I did differently. But what she said has always stuck with me.”

Fernandes is always looking out for those in her care. Whether that means ensuring a person with a wheelchair can participate in activities, or someone can jump in to play a game of pickup basketball while visiting the park, she’s always keeping her eyes out for more opportunities to be inclusive.

“We’ve certainly come a long way, but there are still obstacles to be overcome,” she said. “And I’m not afraid to ask for help. Usually, I find people in the community are more than willing to do so.”

Looking to the Future

Fernandes is looking forward to continuing her training through the many opportunities available at Ability Beyond, including an upcoming course to become a behavioral specialist.

“I love Ability Beyond and feel blessed to be with an organization that is so supportive,” she said. “This really isn’t about just me, because it takes an entire team.”

While she is always striving to do her best, Fernandes said she was surprised and humbled by the DSP of the Year Award.

“What we do is not easy,” she said. “There are some days that can be challenging. And as humans, we often want to take the easy way out. But I look at a situation and ask myself how I would want to be treated, how I’d want my children to be treated. I try to judge myself on what I do when nobody is looking.”

Davis said she was extremely proud of Fernandes and all of our nominees this year. Other DSP’s who were also nominated include Bailey Walsh, Gavin Vincent, Jamilah Holman, Rachael Joyce, and Tanya Meeks.

Since 2007, ANCOR’s annual DSP of the Year awards recognize outstanding direct support professionals (DSPs) who deliver long-term services and support to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). The awards celebrate the important role DSPs play in ensuring people with I/DD have what they need to thrive and be included in the community.

“I’m so proud of all our top-notch direct support professionals,” Davis said. “It’s important work. It’s why I started my career here, and it's one of the best jobs in the world.”