The Real Adventures of Annalisa and Gordie

Annalisa O’Neill longed for a career change—something more fulfilling and community-based, where they could make a difference in people’s lives. After scrolling through available jobs online, they noticed several openings for Direct Support Professionals (DSP). 

“I thought about where I wanted to put my energy. I wanted to be somewhere I was needed, and I knew this would be a good place to start,” says Annalisa O’Neill, who works in a day service in Winnipeg.

It ended up being the perfect fit. Working as a DSP and enrolling in Disability and Community Support at RRC Polytech was the ideal opportunity to provide impactful, genuine support to people who need it. 

What Annalisa didn’t anticipate, however, was how much this new job would help them break out of their shell—and how much fun it would be.

When you forge a bond with someone whose life looks different from yours, it can expand your world in ways you’d have never anticipated.   

Gordie is an older gentleman who loves dressing sharp and striking up conversations with new people wherever he goes. Annalisa is a non-binary college student who’s admittedly quite shy. The two might seem like an unlikely pair, but they always look forward to their adventures together.

As Gordie’s direct support worker, Annalisa accompanies him in activities like shopping, cooking classes, and exploring the city.

“We go all over. Shopping centres, bookstores. I like The Forks. And good clothes—we just bought some yesterday,” says Gordie, showing off the new threads he bought for his video spot with the Direct Support Profession Manitoba campaign.

Gordie and Annalisa at the Forks

They love eating veggie crepes at their usual spot, The Pancake House, and Gordie gets a kick out of hanging around the EQ3 lounge at The Forks Market, admiring all the fancy furniture designs. Annalisa says it doesn’t feel like work on most days because they get to do things they’d typically enjoy alone. Now, they get to do it together.

After nearly one year of working together, Annalisa says Gordie’s influence has helped them grow in unexpected ways.  

“Gordie will go up to anyone and start a conversation. That’s not something that I would have done before. I’ve learned how to navigate the world by expecting the best in people and having more confidence to engage in new activities and relationships,” says Annalisa.

Encouraging Gordie to build new connections and maintain fulfilling friendships ensures that the relationships in his life aren’t just professional ones, and he can feel free to be himself. In the process, Annalisa has begun to let go of their own anxiety and feel more comfortable in social situations. It’s one of many ways that their relationship is mutually beneficial.  

“Sometimes, things can get tough when you’re focusing on supporting other people, but I think in all good relationships, it goes both ways. And it definitely does with Gordie. I can talk to him about my day—if I’m stressed out, he’ll listen and have something to say.”

Although Gordie comes from an older generation, Annalisa says he’s been surprisingly open and receptive to learning about things like their gender identity and contemporary values. The two have had plenty to talk about and learn from each other as they’ve built a trusting, supportive, genuine relationship.

“I think a lot of people feel trapped in life—or unfulfilled. Sometimes it’s easy to get stuck in those kinds of traps. Why not take a step back and put yourself in a situation that you haven’t been in before, or around people that communicate differently?” says Annalisa.

“It’s so nice to know these (day programs) are actually just places where people get to live and laugh together. The focus is just joy.

About Direct Support Profession Manitoba

Direct Support Profession Manitoba is a recruitment campaign led by Abilities Manitoba and funded by The Government of Canada – The Manitoba Government. There are over 90 service providers that provide direct support to individuals with disabilities in the province, whether at work, at home, in a day program, at school or in the communityall of which could use your talents. To learn more about becoming a Direct Support Professional or to begin the first steps of your application process, visit here.

For more information about the Direct Support Profession campaign, please contact: Abilities Manitoba at



You may see the job title change—from Support Staff, Respite Worker, Home Staff, Day Program Staff, Employment Specialist, Key Worker or otherwise—but the goal is always the same: a Direct Support Professional offers necessary support to help people with disabilities thrive—at home, work, school, or wherever life takes them.

You’re along for the ride, ready to help the person you support overcome challenges and barriers, celebrate successes, navigate good and bad days, and grow. From tasks like meal prep or personal care like hygiene, to exploring the city or visiting friends, you’re there to help them navigate their lives and build skills and independence.

Annalisa and Gordie Coffee