A lifetime of compassion as a DSP


When Leighana Leighton was in high school, she rode the bus and saw people getting turned away. Leighana noticed that most of the people getting turned away were deaf or nonverbal. 

At 17, Leighana decided to learn sign language to help translate the community members’ needs to the bus driver. Now, she has served as a Direct Support Professional (DSP) for 30 years, seven at Esperanza. 

“[People] don’t believe that these guys can actually learn something and change the way they live,” Leighana said. “You know, be equal to us, so to speak. So when I am able to do that, it fills my heart.”

Since becoming a DSP, Leighana has never looked back. She has seen clients get married, become parents, and grow in many ways, which is why she loves being a DSP. 

“You cannot go in there just to have a job because your actions really, really, really make an impact on these individuals,” Leighana said. “And you’re actually like second family to them.”

Leighana is proud to be a part of the progress our clients make. One of the clients she has seen grow the most is Kendall. When Leighana started at Esperanza, Kendall was struggling with communication and aggression as a result of frustration. 

For the last few years, Leighana taught Kendall how to ask for the things he wants and needs. He can express his feelings and emotions in ways that he didn’t know how to before.

“I am so proud of him. I am proud of myself, of course, but I am so proud of him. He can actually speak and he’s not aggressive anymore,” Leighana said. “He calls me ‘Ma.’ Everywhere I go, ‘Ma.’”

At first, Leighana thought that he didn’t know her name. She asked Kendall’s sister, Shatavia, if she looked like their mom and Kim assured Leighana that she did not. They asked him what they thought Leighana’s first name was and he said, “Leighana” but returned to the room a minute later to call her “Ma” again.

“So I said, ‘Okay, I’m “Ma” to you,’” Leighana said. “So that’s dear to my heart now.”

House manager Katrina Donaldson has seen Leighana’s passion firsthand.

“Caregiving is a lot of work and Leighana makes it look so easy. Leighana deserves a lot of thanks for her amazing dedication to our clients,” Katrina said. “She is top notch. Her heart is huge and her desire and actions of helping others have been inspiring.”

Leighana cherishes the memories she makes with each client and is happy to show up for them every day. 

“I love my guys and I love my work,” she says. “We need to provide service to people who are not understood. I will always choose the people that others give up on.”


Esperanza is thankful for the work that DSPs do for our clients and our agency. Happy DSP Appreciation Week!
If you are interested in learning more about DSPs, disability equity or how to become an advocate, visit They Deserve More. They Deserve More serves as an advocacy and education tool for people who care for or have an intellectual or developmental disability.

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