The Valentine’s Day Dance at AIM Services is something quite remarkable.

Group of images of people standing in front of a light up heart

For us as members of this agency, it is a time of sweet reflection of the beautiful, talented, hardworking, and brave people we support. For those for whom we care, it is a basic human experience of getting together with friends and boogying down as many of us do as often as we can.

Dance, a universal language of fun and joy we don’t really need to define or explain. This Dance is unique and different than the other events at our agency. It is often that we find ourselves in the midst of preparations for our next fundraising event. Although the fundraising team and its incredible volunteers have each event down to almost an almost perfect science, there is an air of pressure and excitement as we work down to the wire to ensure each fundraiser is as successful as possible.

On Valentine’s Day, we slow down a bit, but our attention and dedication to an important AIM event does not waiver. The meaning of the evening, to recognize the people we support, holds the same significance as it does throughout the year. It is regarded just as importantly as our annual Wine Tasting and Croquet Tournament. This night is just for us; the community that is AIM. It is marked by the symbiotic relationships that are the fabrics of our agency. Quite simply, yet so profoundly, it is an evening of love. Not in the cliché sense of the word love on Valentine’s Day, but in the witnessing of the relationships built between our Direct Support Professionals and the people they have vowed to support.

At the dance this year, it was hard not to be hyper reflective of the incredible, heart-connected staff at our agency.

Since the onset of 2019, we have been rallying around our Direct Support Professionals as we fight for them to receive a true living wage. Our agency spent the early part of last week listing off all the job requirements of a DSP to our legislatures and representatives in Albany in an effort to force them to look hard at a DSP’s work and acknowledge how incongruent their pay is to their seemingly endless job description. We should have invited a few of those legislatures to the dance to see a DSP’s work in action.

We would have pointed out our staff Kristina who danced with one hand on someone’s wheelchair and another in someone’s hand while twirling them both, her face molded into a permanent smile. We would have told them that she started her job last week, yet her effortless compassion made her appear to be a veteran staff. We would then have walked over to the DJ table and enjoyed the various people singing into the microphone throughout most of the evening. Our DJ, Walt, sat quietly smiling at the singers; after all, this is their night. I would have pointed out our photographer Marissa as she ran around the room, often yanked to and fro from an excited person, to take someone’s picture and capture as many joyful moments as possible.  We would have walked over to the tables filled with staff and the people they support enjoying the donated food and homemade desserts offered up from our thoughtful office mates and understanding community members. Before leaving, we would reflect with them upon all that the staff had chosen not to do with their own families so they could ensure this experience was possible. We would had asked one more time that they support the people we do, by fighting for this living wage so our staff don’t have to move on to other jobs to make ends meet. For if our staff are forced to move on, this Valentine’s Day Dance will cease to continue.

75% of individuals receiving care from Direct Support Professionals say their closest, most intimate, relationships are with their staff members. Looking around the room at our Valentine’s Day Dance, it was not hard to understand that fact. On that evening, and on so many other occasions, each person’s joy was our own joy.