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A Q&A with our Self-Direction Team

Get to know a little bit more about our Self-Direction services and team.

Meet Michele LaSpina, Assistant Director of Self-Directed Services of Citizens Options Unlimited; Vicki Hawley, Self-Direction Fiscal Intermediary Coordinator at Citizens Options Unlimited; and Monae Kennedy, Self-Direction Fiscal Intermediary Coordinator at Citizens Options Unlimited

How did you get into the disability field?

Michele: My career began in 1982 as a teaching assistant at BOCES. I just had my 25-year work anniversary! Some previous titles I had over the years include Residential DSP, MSC, Care Coordination, Transition Coordinator, CRP QIDP.Members of our self-direction team

Vicki: I started as a 1:1 (aide) at James E Allen Jr/Sr High School. In 2015, I was hired as a teaching assistant at Barbra C. Wilson Nursery School (Part of our sister agency, BCCS). Then I transferred to MSC at Citizens in 2017.

Monae: In 2010, I started my career as a DSP (Direct Support Professional). In 2011, I began as an assistant Residential Manager for different IRAs (group homes) until 2014 when I worked for the CRPs (children residentials at our sister agency BCCS), where I then became a QIDP and a Residential Manager. In 2021, I became a Community Habilitation Specialist for Self-Direction and finally, from 2021 to present, I have been an FI (Fiscal Intermediary) Coordinator.

What is Self-Direction?

Michele: Self-Direction is about choice. It’s great because you get to make your own decisions. Self-Direction is basically an “other than day hab” model. Some people prefer to have choices and be involved in their services. The person and family (or guardians) have a part in this process, like handling hiring and invoices.

What is the goal of Self-Direction?

Vicki: Self-Direction is a service model for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) that promotes personal choice and control over the delivery of Waiver and State plan services. It allows a person the ability to develop a plan that is customized to best meet their interests and needs. It is all about having choices.

How many people that we support use Self-Direction?

Michele: Citizens currently supports 145 people through Self-Direction services.

How do you get the process started when someone first applies for Self-Direction?

Michele: The first step is attending a New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) Self-Direction class, offered monthly in both English and Spanish. Once done, the person selects a support broker. The support broker is affiliated with a Fiscal Intermediary. This is the start of that person’s Self-Direction team. Together the team creates a budget, a person-centered plan, goals short-term and long, and safeguards.

Vicki: Self-Direction is a multi-step process that takes several months to complete. The process begins with the Care Manager linking the person to hire a support broker. This broker is affiliated with an FI. This starts the Circle of Support team. Together this team develops a person-centered plan, safeguards, and staff action plans to help them meet both long and short-term goals. The budget is created, and then launched. The final step is to find the services chosen that fit the budget lines like memberships, programs, and community classes, along with direct support professionals (DSPs) for community habilitation, or respite. The budget is fluid and can always be changed to meet the needs of the participant.

What’s one of your most successful moments?

Vicki: Not sure how to measure this kind of success because every time we launch a new budget, find a great community habilitation staff to support someone, find a great class so the person we support can fulfill a dream or goal these are all successes in my eyes. May seem small to some, but to the person we support who just learned how to read, or type on a computer, or learned to cook a meal or ride a surfboard, or swim or ride a horse – it is a huge success. Each one is equally important.

If I had to pick one stand out story, it would be of a woman we support with self-direction and a housing subsidy, who has two young children that resided in a not-so-great apartment complex, finally getting section 8 housing and being able to move into a safe neighborhood with her children.

What types of goods and services do people under Self-Direction utilize?

Vicki: The beauty of Self-Direction is that nothing is set in stone. It can be flexible to your needs. People can use Self-Direction budget for community classes, publicly available training/coaching, health club, organizational memberships, camp, transportation, aquatic, art, massage music and play therapy, and more.

What other supports are part of this process?

Vicki: Additionally, many can have budget lines for phone (landline/cell), internet, staff, staff activity fees, personal use transportation, clothing, board stipend (food), utilities, goods and services related to health/safety, and goods and services that increase independence.

Learn more about Self-Direction by visiting our website at or email Michele LaSpina at

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