Perspectives 45 Years Later: 'We Weren't Afraid to Do Anything'

By Sara Porcaro | Sep 13, 2022
Anniversary, Administration, Employee Loyalty, Career Building, Celebrate, Disabilities, Rhode Island

Forty-five years ago, in September of 1977, thirty-eight people walked into new homes under Alternatives, Inc.
"This won't work," people told a young Dave Ruppell then, who'd recently been awarded a state contract to provide residential services for these people--services in the community, not on a plot of land far from town, but in houses and apartments nestled right in the heart of friendly, cozy neighborhoods. "You young kids in town, with no supports, no experts, no way to know--you'll fall on your face."
"We had students from URI volunteering as live-in staff since the homes had extra rooms," Dave, the founder of Perspectives, recounts, "with only three full time staff managing the whole schedule. We traded a place to live for overnight services, and it worked out in the beginning, but we knew we needed more."
Forty-five years later, Alternatives Inc. is gone--and in its place, Perspectives thrives, with over eight hundred individuals receiving supports across Rhode Island. But it's important to know that the story of Perspectives is most of all one of passion and courage: one where a group of professionals committed to the people they served took on every challenge sent their way for the sake of improving the lives of fellow Rhode Islanders.

Building the Way Forward Bit by Bit

"We weren't afraid to do anything," says CEO Judy Niedbala, who has been with the agency for thirty-four years. "We worked with people who needed intense supports and became experts in this area, and because of the reputation we built, we were always called on to fill new needs in the community."
Together as a team, the agency came to grow, filling out into the services we know today. So many families in Rhode Island can know that, through Perspectives'' Youth and Family Services, their children are learning the tools to become independent, ambitious adults, and so many individuals receiving Adult Services know that their needs come first, always. And with the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Department providing specialized services not only to individuals supported by Perspectives, but also to the greater community through their American Sign Language (ASL) interpreting team, it just goes to show: there's nothing Perspectives' growing team can't come together to achieve.
"I'm so honored to be a part of this work, knowing we've done so many good things for so many people. It's made life worth living--it is something to be proud of."
"The home-based services we provide are integral step to creating independence for the individuals that we support and improving their quality of life," says Clinical Supervisor Kristy Hallam, "and we have been so fortunate to have administrators, clinical directors, and more who are truly dedicated to professional growth and supporting individuals and their families."
"We have the heart," signs DHOH Director Heather Niedbala. "We want to give out best. And that requires a lot of work behind the scenes, so I think--and I hope--that others in our industry see this."

Joy, Community, and Camaraderie in Everyday Life

That heart stays shining through the work the agency does. No matter what services developed over the past forty-five years, one thing stayed constant: the independence, joy, and quality of life Perspectives brings to individuals who came to the agency. Bob, for instance, has been at Perspectives for over forty years. He and Jean have developed a lifelong friendship, both from their times together before Perspectives to their home in Wakefield, where they still enjoy those little comforts all these years later: shopping at Hobby Lobby, building model planes, singing karaoke songs together, and getting a good cup of coffee at the local coffee shop.
"I like this place better than where I used to live," says Bob, "and I think Perspectives is going to stay good."
Likewise, Nikki, who has also been living in a peaceful home for many years, jokes with DSP Adam Dunham, enjoys watching movies at home, is always on the hunt for new magazines to read, and plans the best parties for special occasions, like her 70th birthday this past August. She loves to sing and dance in her own apartment, see her friends, dye her hair to keep up her style, and go to events like local seafood festivals--all things that Perspectives professionals help her do.
"I like the freedom I have here," Nikki says. "It's great."
In the time Nikki, Bob, and Jean have been with Perspectives certainly much has changed and continues to change. Adam, who started working at Perspectives in 2016, noticed it just in the six years he's been on the job, as he's had the opportunity to work with several different teams over the years and in different positions. Throughout some of the toughest challenges the past six years has seen has no doubt been the COVID-19 pandemic, where the whole agency came together to support everyone as much as possible to keep individuals and professionals alike safe and healthy. Yet still, through the support of leadership that values their team and DSPs who want to do the best for individuals, they only continued innovating, working hard, and making the best of the situation.
"It's definitely changed for the better," Adam says. "Even during the two and a half years of the pandemic, we had great tools and support, and now we're back out doing the things we loved doing. The staff really come together and make sure the work gets done, and I think the agency will keep improving, especially now that the budget went through."

Where to Go From Here

From 1977 to today, Perspectives continues to see changes. The landscape of adult residential supports, especially, is shifting, as Self-Directed Services and Shared Living Arrangements become more of the focus. The person-centered element of human services as an industry is top priority, with individuals having new opportunities for customized services across all facets of their lives: namely in employment, daily living, and day services. Beyond that, at Perspectives, these services are specifically provided for Deaf individuals with professionals that sign their language, creating not only supports in language, but in Deaf culture, too.
"I've seen structural changes several times," Heather signs. "I started in Youth and Family Services as one of the only two Deaf staff in the agency. Once Perspectives hired a staff interpreter, things started to change--and here we are now, with sixty employees, half of which are Deaf."
And the Perspectives team isn't done with these innovations, either--not by a long shot. They continue to come together to think outside the box and find ways to improve services. The idea of "good enough" doesn't exist at this agency, not where so many passionate professionals all aim for the same goal. While Perspectives is continuing to make improvements to all its services and stay ahead of the curve, it's also focusing on the backbone of the industry itself: the DSPs. Perspective recognizes that this job is so much more than a job, and they're doing the work to help elevate, educate, and certify these essential workers. The position is therefore one of growth and unlimited potential, and Perspectives as an agency celebrates the work our DSPs do each and every day, as well as the commitment to taking it one step further.
"This is something new that we're really excited about, because we're the first to do it," Judy says. "We're a learning agency, and we're dedicated to the growth of our professionals and our leadership. I can't say it enough: I'm proud of the leadership we've developed here, and the uniqueness of the agency."
"I can't believe it," says Dave, echoing Judy's sentiments as he reflects on all the agency has done since 1977. "I'm so honored to be a part of this work, knowing we've done so many good things for so many people. It's made life worth living--it is something to be proud of."
As time marches forward, so too does Perspectives, leading the way for the development of human services in Rhode Island. The strengths of the professionals here--the passion, the courage, and the tendency to always look forward, never back--have kept this agency growing steadily, rising to the occasion to fill the needs of our communities. We've proven over the years that we truly are stronger together, and with everyone's support and dedication, we see the future shining ahead still. Here's to forty-five years of Perspectives!


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