Pin It


This direct support professional wants a world more welcoming of people with developmental disabilities

click to enlarge After an early tragedy, Stephanie Boyle thought she'd never work with special needs clients. - YOUNG KWAK
  • Young Kwak
  • After an early tragedy, Stephanie Boyle thought she'd never work with special needs clients.

When Stephanie Boyle was 11, she picked up a gig babysitting a little girl who was deaf, blind and had a degenerative disease that would later require her to use a wheelchair. Boyle spent time caring for the girl, getting to know her and even picking up some sign language. But that relationship came to a sad end after four years.

"When she died, I was like, 'I'm never, ever, ever doing this again' because it was horribly heartbreaking," recalls Boyle. "I decided then that I wasn't going to work with kids or people with disabilities."

But three years later, Boyle would embark on a path that made helping disabled people her life's work; she even adopted two special needs kids of her own. Since 1997, Boyle has worked for the Arc of Spokane as a direct support professional, helping people with developmental disabilities live self-directed, independent lives.

She's received national recognition for excelling at the sometimes challenging work, and has been praised for helping individuals with developmental disabilities, an often isolated population, have the chance to integrate with the broader community.

"She's just very focused on the need to recognize people with developmental disabilities as fundamentally human and deserving of every privilege, right and opportunity to thrive," says Brian Holloway, director of advocacy and family support for the Arc of Spokane. "And that's really helped us stay grounded and not lose sight of the heart of our mission."

Boyle grew up in the Spokane area and graduated from Mead High School. After graduation she enrolled in community college to study journalism while working at Shopko, where she was praised for her ability to connect with disabled customers. Some would even seek her out, like the deaf woman who could communicate with Boyle in sign language.

She also remembers a man with developmental disabilities who would come in regularly to buy bike accessories. One day, he came in looking for a yellow bike helmet and became increasingly agitated when the store didn't have one. Security prepared to call the police, but Boyle, recognizing a communication barrier, was able to talk the man down.

After two years at Shopko she received an unexpected phone call from the Arc of Spokane asking for a donation, which got her thinking about returning to working with disabled people. She applied for a job there.

"I felt like I was fighting something I couldn't fight anymore," says Boyle, who can't quite explain why she applied for the job, which she didn't expect to get. "I don't know if it was a calling. It felt like the biggest mistake for the longest time."

Now, Boyle has spent more than half of her life working at the Arc. She's run an afterschool program and worked in supported living settings and at the community center. She's also worked on the Arc's advocacy efforts and co-founded the Inclusion Network, a volunteer group that seeks to overcome barriers between people with and without disabilities. Along the way, she even adopted two boys, 9 and 16, both with developmental disabilities.

Currently, Boyle works with adults with developmental disabilities, helping them learn life skills like how to use a microwave or manage their finances. She also helps them find meaningful activities and relationships. One of her best-known clients is Penny Cannon, who told Boyle she wanted to sell her art. Boyle says she knew nothing about art or business, but she helped connect Cannon with those who did. Now her greeting cards, framed prints, magnets and calendars can be found in approximately 30 stores in Washington state. People even recognize Cannon in public.

Last year, Boyle received the National Direct Support Professional Recognition Award from the American Network of Community Options and Resources. Boyle, uncomfortable in the spotlight, is humble about the recognition. "I don't think it takes a special person," says Boyle. "It's a willingness to know that you're wrong a lot of the time and you have a ton to learn."

Kassi Kain, a volunteer services manager at Catholic Charities who nominated Boyle for the prize, describes her as a unique individual whose work has empowered developmentally disabled people, bringing them out of isolation and into the broader community.

After all these years, Boyle appreciates how it was just a snap decision to apply to the Arc that would define her life's work.

"Sometimes I think that God has a funny sense of humor," she says. ♦

Stephanie Boyle

Age: 37

Positions: Direct support professional at the Arc of Spokane, co-founder of the Inclusion Network

I give back because... "it's what you do. It's what everyone should do on every level."

I look up to... "the many incredible co-workers, people we support and families who motivate me to not settle."

I wish that... "my job wasn't needed. I wish we had a community that was welcoming and open and willing to live life with other people."

  • Pin It

Speaking of Nonprofit Guide 2015

  • The Young and the Selfless
  • The Young and the Selfless

    Meet five inspiring kids whose efforts will make the Inland Northwest a better place
    • Aug 26, 2015
  • Consistent Charity
  • Consistent Charity

    These three local businesses give back on a regular basis
    • Aug 26, 2015
  • To a New Home
  • To a New Home

    These nonprofit organizations want your unwanted stuff
    • Aug 26, 2015
  • More »

Latest in Give Guide

  • The Big Picture
  • The Big Picture

    Supporting local arts nonprofits also benefits other areas of our communities
    • Aug 25, 2016
  • Learning on the Job
  • Learning on the Job

    Starting a new nonprofit is a crash course in business — and more
    • Aug 25, 2016
  • Home Base
  • Home Base

    Spokane nonprofits face challenges in providing people with a place to call their own
    • Aug 25, 2016
  • More »


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Today | Thu | Fri | Sat | Sun | Mon | Tue
Beginning Knitting

Beginning Knitting @ Argonne Library

Wed., Jan. 18, 6:30-7:30 p.m.

All of today's events | Staff Picks

More by Jake Thomas

Most Commented On

Readers also liked…

© 2017 Inlander
Website powered by Foundation