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Video of DPA

For 35 years, she’s been a gift in the lives of people with disabilities

By Tamsen Fadal | Aug. 24, 2017


Velma Smith came to the Waterside Residence in Manhattan 35 years ago. Every day she is just as passionate about being here as she was the moment she arrived.

“Very busy. Begin with medication. That’s very important. Then going around and saying good morning to all of them. Some of them, yell out my name because they know my footstep I don’t even get to the bedroom” she said.

Her alarm goes off at 3 a.m. so she can arrive by 5 a.m.

“I get up every morning to be here just to help them, assist them in every way possible. They deserve it,” she said.

She has dedicated more than three decades to the Adapt Community Network, formerly UCP of NYC.

And for Smith, this is not a job. It’s a passion.

“Dana is my first. But well there have been many that came through the years you know? And if you don’t mind me dropping in this soft little word: my babies,” she said.

Dana came here 13 years ago.

From the moment each person arrives, Smith makes sure they feel at home.

“We feel so strongly about their living conditions,” and that they feel at home aways from their parents and family.

Pointing to framed photos in Dana’s room, Smith says, “That’s her father — and that’s her father’s parents — that’s her grandparents,” she said.

“We just surround them with pictures so they never forget. So they’ll always feel like home,” Smith told PIX11’s Tamsen Fadal.

While she personifies what a direct service professional does to help people living with disabilities, she says she gets so much more in return.

“I have individuals where just them moving their arms will probably tell me what they want. Took a lot of years to learn that. I thank God for that gift,” she said.

For people who work with her, Smith is the gift.

“She’s very sweet and very caring and that’s why she’s here. Because she really helps the individuals strive in life,” said Queen Davis, a resident.

It’s a job that over the years has become a labor of love.

She was holding back tears, tears of pride. There’s also love and respect in those tears. And hope that each day she is making a change in people’s lives.

“Well I helped. I didn’t make [the change]. I helped to contribute to the changes,” she said.