ARRM announced their ARRM Cares Awards finalists on Tuesday, and we are delighted to share that two of our dedicated staff are on the list—Joey Pederson and Nicole Smith. Each year ARRM celebrates the best of the best in direct care and awards six Direct Support Professionals the ARRM Cares Award. In the Rising Star category (three years of service or less), there were 48 nominations this year, with four finalists chosen, and there will be two winners. In the ARRM Cares category, there were 85 nominations, 10 finalists, and there will be four winners.  

Please join us in congratulating these incredible DSPs for their amazing work and devotion to the profession of caring for others and supporting people with disabilities. Here are shortened versions of the nominations submitted for each finalist. Nominations emphasize three categories—professional integrity, networking supports, and creative, innovative, person-centered approaches to services. 


Joey’s commitment to high standards is obvious when you understand that she has been with the organization for close to three decades, starting when she was just three weeks out of high school. Over the years she has filled many positions with the company, including personal advocate, senior advocate, committee member, direct support professional, and assistant program manager. She has shown up for the people she supports, staff and the entire organization from the beginning. Joey has made the care of others a priority throughout her career and her commitment to the work is obvious to all who meet her.  

Joey has seen the company change names twice and moved through four buildings. Sadly, she has also had the experience of losing many individuals over the years, as age and disease work their way through us all. Working here is more than just a job to Joey, everyone has become family to her. When she became a mother, she did not leave, she simply found a schedule that supported her ability to be of service to people with disabilities and her growing family simultaneously. Over the past two years Joey has taken the lead in a partnership with a cultural communications class at a local community college who invited us to be a part of the curriculum.  

Joey is dedicated to people having rich lives filled with activities as well as genuine life changing experiences. Over the years she has taken people supported on many trips. She goes out of her way to personalize services and provide unique experiences and loves that her job provides the opportunity to assist with wellness programming in this impactful way. An early adapter to DEI work, back in the 90s, she once even stepped in when a black coworker was harassed by police at a gas station. She simply would not stand for the people she worked with, or for, being marginalized or discriminated against 


Nicole is a relationship builder with both staff and people supported. She is a natural leader who builds up employee confidence and gets staff comfortable and excited about their role supporting people who have complex physical and medical supports. She is a great trainer because she excels at recognizing that new staff are often tepid about lifts, proper use of vans, personal care and unfamiliar home equipment. Armed with that understanding she takes the time to walk staff through everything until they feel confident and fully supported. This is an incredible way to support her coworkers and the organization because they know when she is training a new hire, that they will learn from the best. Nicole’s manager says the house where she works probably wouldn’t run as effectively without her.  

She makes sure she gets everyone out of the house to appointments and events, and places high value on getting people into the community where they can be surrounded by both new and familiar experiences. Nicole keeps people engaged throughout the day, and always does so with a smile. When at home she makes sure supplies are replenished, medical appointments are scheduled and attended to, and staffing is covered. Nicole is a steadfast believer in providing the people she supports with access to activities and events. For the past few years, she has been instrumental in making sure her crew had access to a series of classes at Inver Hills Community College during the spring semester. As many in the industry know, transportation is often a barrier. Nicole repeatedly came in on a day she does not usually work because she knew this opportunity was a significant relationship builder. She would even stop at another house to pick a few people as well, meaning even more benefited from the classes.  

You can see the full list of all eight Living Well nominations with this link. Thank you to Living Well staff Hammed Bakare, Megan Burgeson, Diane Ford-Harrison, Mike Hedin, and Olayinka Oyebanjiv, if it were up to us all of our nominations would be finalists.  

More about ARRM 

ARRM is a nonprofit association of nearly 200 provider organizations, businesses and advocates dedicated to leading the advancement of home and community-based services supporting people living with disabilities in their pursuit of meaningful lives. Founded in 1970, ARRM continues to lead advocacy and training for positive industry reforms that support Minnesotans with disabilities. 

The ARRM Cares Awards were established to recognize professionals from ARRM members who provide direct care and demonstrate a commitment to quality services. ARRM supports and encourages their members to acknowledge their employees’ dedication and service through this award process. Six winners are selected each year who represent outstanding and extraordinary dedication, innovation, and skill. Finalists will be recognized on stage at the ARRM Forward Annual Conference on July 24. Winners will be announced in September and will receive a $1,000 award and be celebrated in a special ceremony. 

Best of luck to all the finalists, and a HUGE thank you to everyone who has ever worked in direct care! The work you do has a real-life impact on the quality of life for the people served, and you truly help people with disabilities live richer, fuller lives!  

Make a career out of caring, like Joey and Nicole and apply today! 


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