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Removing Barriers and Promoting Independence with Assistive Technology

Shermare is putting out forest fires. Though she has a physical disability with limited range of motion, Shermare is able to use an iPad for the first time, thanks to an adaptive switch that she can activate with her hand, forearm or even her cheek. Each time she taps the switch, the animated helicopter on the screen drops a bucket of water onto the cartoon fires below. Shermare squeals with delight as the last fire is doused.

Shermare E. is a client of JEVS Community Supports and Adult Residential who has spastic cerebral palsy and requires significant support from caregivers to complete almost all tasks. When she recently acquired an iPad, she found she was unable to use it by touching the screen, and had to rely on staff to pull up her email.

Enter JEVS’ Assistive Technology Professional Madeline Schlusser, who met with Shermare, completed an assessment, and recommended the wireless two-switch that enables Shermare to play switch accessible games and use apps likes Netflix and iTunes.

After using the switch, something clicked in Shermare right away. Her life seemed to brighten and her world opened up. “I did not know it was possible,” Shermare said.

“When you first came here, I never was on my iPad before. Now I know things that I never knew before. You helped me a lot, Madeline.”

“She was like, ‘oh my gosh, I can do this myself!’” said Schlusser.

While the video games are interactive and fun for Shermare, they also teach her several skills. “This particular game allows her to see the cause and effect of using a switch with her iPad, and also helps her to develop better hand-eye coordination.”

Assistive Technology has opened up new worlds for Shermare.

The goal is to get Shermare comfortable using the switch so she can develop the skills she will need to use more advanced apps, like a speech generator she can utilize when her voice tires or if an aide is struggling to understand to her vocalizations.

“Shermare’s confidence has grown immensely over the last few months,” said Schlusser. “She’s been very excited by the opportunity to gain more independence.”

The switch, the app, and even the assessment and training provided are all examples of Assistive Technology.

What is Assistive Technology

Assistive Technology, or AT, is any device, software, or equipment that enables someone to work around their challenges and perform functions that might otherwise be difficult or impossible.  It also includes direct training and instruction to the user. AT often means increased independence, freedom, safety, and autonomy.

Many AT interventions are low cost or even free. For example, AT can be as simple as changing the size and color of your cursor in your computer settings, which can make a world of difference for someone who has difficulty with visual tracking.  And while anyone can buy equipment, more benefits are seen when a certified AT Professional is able to assess what will work for someone and then train that person and their caregivers on how to use it.

Madeline Schlusser is a certified Assistive Technology Professional.

“JEVS is building this service within our agency to help find solutions to support more independence,” said Clara Thompson, vice president of community living and home supports at JEVS. “There is a huge need for someone to be able to assess a person’s abilities and identify what technology will help them live more independently and be more connected to others. We are filling that gap with Madeline’s skills and certification for all of the persons we support.”

“While certification was a personal goal of mine, my motivation also came from the individuals we serve,” said Schlusser, who had to accrue 1500 hours of direct experience with assistive technology before she could sit for the exam. “It allows me to further support our clients and make a meaningful impact on their lives.”

Schlusser is providing Assistive Technology support to individuals across an array of JEVS programs.

Tikvah Residents Make Connections Using AT

Tikvah resident Eric K. enjoys the benefits of Assistive Technology. “I’m so happy. The tablet is opening a new world for me. Thank you, JEVS!”

Recently JEVS Tikvah Residence received a grant to purchase AT devices for each of their eight residents.

“We were able to purchase an Amazon Echo dot and Fire Tablet for each resident,” said Schlusser.  “My role has been to install the Echo devices in the residents’ apartments and instruct them on how to use them.

“Most residents have been using their Fire Tablets to connect virtually with their family and friends during the pandemic. By staying connected with loved ones, residents avoid becoming isolated and improve their mental health.”

Independence Network Members See Benefits of AT

After performing AT assessments with some members of JEVS Independence Network , Schlusser found they too could benefit from the use of smart home technology like Amazon Echo devices. “They’re great because they are commercially available and low cost. One member is using her Echo device to develop a morning and nighttime routine to improve her health and wellness.”

Independence Network members Chrissy and David use their Echo Show to find new healthy recipes and cook more meals at home.

“It has changed my life,” said Independence Network member Chrissy A. “The Echo device reminds me to leave for work on time.  Now I am trying new recipes for dinner. The Echo Show makes it easy to look up new recipes.”

Fellow IN member David M. agrees: “I think it has changed my life because it helping me to stay organized. The device reminds me of things like what time to take the train to work and what time to leave for work. I think the Echo devices are amazing and cool. I wish I had it years ago.”

IN member Josh S . uses his Echo mostly for emergency calls in case he doesn’t have his phone and has a medical emergency. And since Echo Show has a camera that can be covered with a slide, his parents or staff members can drop in on him via video.

Independence Network member Josh S. uses his Echo for emergency calls. He is also looking into other forms of Assistive Technology to help him at work.

“I think the Echo devices are fun and helpful,” said Josh.  “It’s going to change my life by making things easier and helping me to remember things. The devices help me to be more independent.”

To help him at work, Josh is also trialing a Livescribe pen, which transcribes handwritten notes into a text file on a computer. “Josh usually writes by hand during appointments then has to rewrite it into the computer afterward, which is double the work,” said Schlusser. “This tool cuts out typing what he has already written and saves him time. He can also dictate to the Livescribe pen as well.”

The Livescribe pen and other AT devices are available through a state program run by Temple University called TechOWL. It functions as a free AT lending library where it is possible to borrow equipment for short term use.

“TechOWL is very helpful,” said Schlusser. “We are starting to build our own library within JEVS. Right now we have some Echo devices, some switches, and a Tile for losing keys – yes, that’s assistive technology!  We are also hoping to get a 3D printer to make simple devices like prescription pill bottle openers, zipper pulls, key holders — the possibilities are endless.”

Moving Beyond iPad Games

Madeline Schlusser will continue to work with Shermare on new options in Assistive Technology.

For Shermare, iPad games are just a start. In fact, she has mastered her iPad now and is looking for something more challenging, so Schlusser is training her on a speech generation app, as well as looking into different types of switches to try.

“There’s a Sip and Puff switch which she can blow into to signal her device. Down the road, the ultimate recommendation may be eye gaze technology. We really need to research best options. This is just the beginning!”

For more information on Assistive Technology, contact JEVS at clhs@jevs.org

 

Motivated Job Seekers Find Guidance at CareerLink Despite Pandemic

Throughout the pandemic, PA CareerLink® Suburban Station operated by JEVS Human Services has continued to provide comprehensive services to those seeking career opportunities. We recently heard from three program participants who described their journey.

Jon

When I was laid off  due to company downsizing, it was the 3rd time I would go on unemployment (UE) over 13 years in the workforce.

Both times prior I did not leverage the services CareerLink offered (candidly, because I did not know CareerLink existed. Moreso, this is probably because I was not paying attention to the information PA UE was providing me). However, this time around I was “forced / mandated / had to attend” a CareerLink Intro Class to ensure I would continue to receive my benefits.

I attended that class with the intentions of daydreaming for 90 minutes to make sure I would not jeopardize my benefits. However, shortly after the class began and my instructor (Ed) started by telling the class about his journey and how he got to be in front of us his message really connected with me.

While industry-wise Ed and I were very different, how we both got to be in that room on that day was very similar and through him telling the group his story (and how I related), I decided that instead of daydreaming the class away I was going to take my UE and his guidance seriously.

I was able to meet with Ed the following week to come up with a game plan. I took a test that would help confirm I was in the correct career path. I had an amazing one-on-one resume session that left me with the best resume I had ever had to that point and everything was going well. And then COVID-19 took over the world.

Millions of more jobs were lost, industries were downsized and (in short) finding my next job felt nearly impossible. However, that didn’t stop Ed. He continued to stay in touch via email and continued to share his positive messages in the craziest of times. Fast forward 5 months and I was offered a new job. I called Ed and after a 90 minute conversation we came up with a game plan revolving around accepting the job and figuring out how to make it work for me over the next 3-6-9-12 months and 2-5 years.

In short, I was a person that never wanted to meet a person like Ed, but in doing so I gained a lot of knowledge and insight around being employed, being unemployed and being able to game plan for an array of career next steps. Thanks Ed!

Samuel

I was looking for a career change in my life. Therefore, I went to CareerLink on JFK Boulevard and met with Ms. Amber Byus to discuss my opportunities and qualifications for education. We discussed the IT-(SOC) Analyst Program and my steps to get approved. Once I was finished my workshop classes, I was able to move forward to meeting Ms. Vincentia Orsdiana.

Ms. Vincentia Orsdiana had to check my progress, paperwork, credentials, etc., and then signed me up to take my CASAS Exam. Once I received notice that I passed, I was referred to Ms. Aleta Phelps, who was officially signed as my advisor.

I had picked Harrisburg University/ NuPaths for my learning institution.  I wrote an essay about why and what reasons I picked IT (SOC) Analyst Program. Ms. Phelps stayed dedicated to my aspirations through the whole process. She notified me in March 2020 that I was accepted for the grant from Philadelphia Works.

My experience with the whole process was extraordinary on everyone’s part. I did not know it was that much information to learn in the Information Technology field. This advance course was incredibly challenging, but very resourceful to my career. By me not having the hands-on classroom made it extremely hard. I would like to thank all my professors and staff members at Harrisburg University/ NuPaths.

I would like to personally thank Ms. Elizabeth McCurdy & Stephanie Keller (Harrisburg University/ NuPaths), Ms. Aleta Phelps, Ms. Amber Byus, Ms. Vincentia Orsdiana, Ms. Belinda Rodriquez (CareerLink), and Ms. Hillary Shayne & Ms. Alyssa Tombler (Phila Works). I deeply appreciate your due diligence throughout the process on helping me on a greater path of excellence. My prayers and blessings go out to you all.

Deb

When I was laid off I turned to PA CareerLink to help me rebuild my resume and help me find a job. At the time, I was under the impression that CareerLink only provided a job search portal and some help with resume writing. Holy cow! That was NOT the case at all…PA CareerLink is SO much more than that.

Once I was registered, I was introduced to my Career Advisor who worked with me on a career assessment and subsequent follow up. From there I entered the Professional Networking Group where I, along with a group of 25 professionals was guided on how to brush up on networking, elevator speech, and resume writing skills. There were guest speakers and that program concluded with mock interviews with actual recruiters and HR professionals.

Then there is the WIOA program. I had never heard of such a program before, and when it was explained to me, my only thought was “What’s the catch?” This program seemed too good to be true. It took a little effort on my part, and once I was enrolled in the program, everything went as smooth as could be. I was given a choice of programs to choose from that would enhance my skills and marketability in the workforce.

Less than 12 months after I was accepted into the program, I have earned a Cybersecurity Certification from CCP as well as the CompTIA Security+ certifications. These certifications will enable me to find meaningful work that will lead to a stable career with an unlimited amount of growth potential.

My primary contact during this time, Karen Brownley, is truly a Godsend. Karen was with me every step of the way and now is actively and passionately helping me launch my new career. Karen also introduced me to Ben Adiletto, who stepped right up to help get me in the right mindset and helped hold me accountable for my job search activities.

While I have not (yet) found a permanent position to date (who would have thought relaunching a career during a global pandemic would be a challenge?), Karen, Ben, and I communicate frequently and they really seem passionate when it comes to helping people like me who are willing to work hard, but need a little help and guidance when navigating the job search process.

I know when I do find “my” job (it is out there, I know it) that this amazing group of professionals, along with the WIOA program will have been the support system that had a HUGE impact on my finding that role.  Along with Karen, I would like to give a HUGE thank you to Benjamin Adiletto, Nathan Schlingmann, Jamaine Jackson, Lailin Ing, and Kendrick Payne.

For more information visit www.pacareerlinkphl.org >

 

JEVS Independence Network Celebrates a Decade of Success

JEVS Independence Network is a unique program that empowers young adults with disabilities in a supportive co-ed community so they can live independent lives. The program is celebrating 10 years of success with a series of memories and reflections by founders, members, and staff. Excerpts with links to the full stories are below.

Looking Back on Ten Years of Independence

By Lois Frischling

In 2008, my son, David, graduated from the Vocational Independence Program at New York Institute of Technology, and joined the POINT program in White Plains, NY, as one of the founding members. David was thriving there, but wanted to come home to Philadelphia. He missed his brothers (he’s one of triplets), he really missed his sports teams, and he even missed his parents. We could have found him an apartment, and possibly a job, but he would not have had a community or a way to make friends. Read more >>>

Independence Network Timeline

December 17, 2009
Founding families met with JEVS Human Services for the 1st time to explore a potential partnership.

March 10, 2010
JEVS provided the official go-ahead to begin the Philadelphia Independence Network program in Narberth.

October 21, 2010
Founding families hosted an initial outreach event to try and build a critical mass of prospective members to get the program off the ground. Read more >>>

Socialization and Connection are Key to Success of Independence Network

By Meghan McHugh

When I started working for JEVS Independence Network 6 years ago, the program consisted of 16 members and 4 staff members. Fast forward to November of 2020 and we now have 30 members in Narberth, 23 members in New Jersey, and 16 staff between both programs. To say this program has grown would be an understatement. I am lucky to have been here from, almost, the beginning. Read more >>>

In Their Own Words: Members Reflect on the Program

“The program has changed my life since joining. I found a job and am earning some money so I have enough to pay my bills like groceries and clothing.”

– Zachary

Read more >>>

Charting the Growth of JEVS Independence Network

The JEVS Independence Network began in 2011 with 4 members in Narberth. In just 10 years, we have grown to 53 members between the Narberth, PA and Collingswood, NJ programs. Many members have moved on to the next step of their independence journey after receiving supports for a few years. In total, we have served 77 people as Members of the Independence Network since the program’s inception. Read more >>>

PINPoints Newsletter

Check out PINPoints, the Independent Network Newsletter containing all of these stories!

Download PINPoints (PDF) >>>

 

 

 

 

 

Roxborough man sees a bright future on the horizon

Bayir Hodges learns the building trades.

Growing up in Philadelphia can be a challenge for any young man, but when those challenges include unintentional trouble with law enforcement and dropping out of high school, a bright future can often look dim. Luckily, for Roxborough resident Bayir Hodges, there was an organization there to help once he made the decision to start a new life for himself.

After a misunderstanding that went too far resulted in a robbery charge, Bayir was forced to spend a few weeks in juvenile detention. Unfortunately, this experience helped send him into a state of depression and in 2017, at the age of 16, he decided to drop out of high school.

Without a high school diploma, future options were limited, and Bayir spent the next two years wasting time in the streets. His mom had mentioned a potential opportunity called JEVS Project WOW (World of Work), which offered the chance to learn skills while also attaining a high school diploma, but Bayir brushed her off.

However, his future changed the night he decided to walk to the local store. Bayir, who is 6’3 and 250 pounds was minding his own business in a hoodie when a patrol car targeted him solely thanks to his imposing presence. “They pulled up on me out of nowhere and for no reason before searching me,” Bayir remembered. Accused of prowling and loitering, the encounter left him shaken, and Bayir says it is what finally changed things in his life.

“This incident woke me up to take the JEVS opportunity seriously. If something happened, I wouldn’t even be able to pay $500 for bail. I realized I had nothing to fall back on if anything went wrong. It made me think about what life is about and that I want to make something of it.”

He immediately decided to reach out to JEVS and that is when he met Sylvia Ocasio. Youth Project Manager at JEVS Human Services, Sylvia has been running Project WOW out of Orleans Technical College in Northeast Philadelphia for years. Project WOW offers a free, 22-week session of skills training, GED/high school diploma attainment, and job placement assistance for 18-to-24-year old’s who did not finish high school. Bayir was the perfect fit.

In a very short time Bayir turned his life around. Project WOW offers enrollment in a high school diploma program through Penn Foster and Bayir jumped at the chance to attain his diploma. At the same time, Bayir learned the world of property maintenance, and a passion for the building trades was ignited. He was such a success that after graduating last month, he was offered a paid internship to work with the next Project WOW program as an advisor. Additionally, JEVS recently surprised him with a scholarship to attend Orleans Tech, where he will spend six months learning HVAC before heading out into an in-demand career.

“It’s unbelievable to be offered a scholarship. Miss Sylvia is the one who gave me the news and my experience with JEVS has been nothing less than life changing,” said Bayir. “Before, I was messing around, playing poker with my life. Now I wake up with a purpose and a need to get things done. It’s a great feeling. From the moment I met Sylvia she was pushing me to succeed and when she described all of the benefits of the program, I really became intrigued. She brought me in when I had nothing going on for myself. I didn’t even have a job and was living every day with nothing. It was boring. This clicked right away.”

Sylvia sees so much of herself in the students she mentors each year and knows what the right spark and motivation can do. “Bayir has been committed to this program from day one and I can’t tell you how excited I am to watch him soar,” said Sylvia. “We help to provide a path forward and if the will is there, success comes next. Bayir has a lot he can bring to the next class as a mentor, and this is just the beginning of a wonderful journey.”

Since he learned to build a house in the property maintenance program, Bayir has been using his new building trades skills to help at the houses of friends and family. He also earned his driver’s license, something that will be necessary for future jobs, and he obtained three construction certifications as well.

It takes a special person to have the will to create a better life for themselves, and Bayir is doing just that. While the journey thus far has been bumpy, a bright future now awaits a young man with so much promise.

Read this article on montgomerynews.com >

Download a PDF of this article >

 

In Their Own Words: JEVS Independent Network Members Reflect on the Program

 

“The program has changed my life since joining. I found a job and am earning some money so I have enough to pay my bills like groceries and clothing.”

– Zachary

“My life has changed in many ways since joining PIN. I am now living in my own apartment, doing many new things, and I work and volunteer in the community. I have also made many new friends.”

– Laura

“I think it’s a great program. You learn a lot about living on your own, cooking, and being sociable. As soon as I joined the program I made more friends.”

– Gabe

“I would recommend this program. I know it can be a little scary moving out of your parents’ house for the first time but you never know until you try it. It’s a good experience.”

– Josh D.

“When I came to PIN, my life completely changed by me being more independent and working a full-time job. I didn’t think I would be able to move away from my parents, but I was able to overcome my fear and do it.”

– Chrissy B.

“The first event I went on with PIN, was my first trip into the city. I learned right then that I would be able to trust the staff and always have been able to since.”

– Chrissy A.

“This program has changed me. My life has changed completely because now I can do more things on my own. I have more independence.”

– Shawna

“It is a lot of fun here in Narberth! The PIN staff are really helpful and easy to talk with.”

– David

“Since joining PIN, I have been able to have a full-time job and live independently. Staff is always there if I need assistance, which helps me out with my independence. I really feel happy with my life now!”

– Josh

“For anyone who is interested in this program, I say jump right in – don’t even hesitate! This is a perfect opportunity. You will get all the help you need – from housing arrangements and groceries to employment.

– Andrew

“I was one of the founding members of PIN 10 years ago. There were only 3 other members back then and now there are 30. I love living on my own in Narberth. I work full-time, love my job and my co-workers.

– Adam

“Since joining PIN, I am more independent, active within the local community and have made so many more friends.”

– Ryan

 

 

Charting the Growth of JEVS Independence Network

The JEVS Independence Network began in 2011 with 4 members in Narberth. In just 10 years, we have grown to 53 members between the Narberth, PA and Collingswood, NJ programs. Many members have moved on to the next step of their independence journey after receiving supports for a few years. In total, we have served 77 people as Members of the Independence Network since the program’s inception.

Member Employment

Employment services and supports have been an integral part of the Independence Network since the inception of the program, and the structure of these services has been continuously evolving.

In 2015, as a result of member and family feedback, a Career Navigator position was added to the team. All staff were cross-trained in employment support best practices, and we worked to build a culture of employment among members. Our investment paid off and employment rates increased. We committed to continuous career advancement support as members became ready to increase hours, pay, or search for the next steps in their careers.

In March of 2020 many members in both PA and NJ programs were furloughed or lost their jobs due to the pandemic. Because we were positioned to provide ongoing whole life supports to include employment more and more members are obtaining new jobs and getting back to work!

 

JEVS Independence Network Timeline

Independence Network Timeline

December 17, 2009
Founding families met with JEVS for the 1st time to explore a potential partnership.

March 10, 2010
JEVS provided the official go-ahead to begin the Philadelphia Independence Network program in Narberth.

October 21, 2010
Founding families hosted an initial outreach event to try and build a critical mass of prospective members to get the program off the ground.

September 20, 2011
JEVS holds recruitment open house for families and providers.

November 2011
4 young men officially started the Independence Network with 1 staff.

March 2012
The Independence Network establishes first clubhouse.

June 24, 2012
The Independence Network holds its first community picnic.

September 2014
The Independence Network moves into a larger clubhouse.

February 2016
The Independence Network officially embeds employment support into the program structure with a dedicated Career Navigator position and cross training all staff in supported employment best practices.

October 2016
Independence Network Associate Membership begins – the program’s first attempt to develop a step down membership for members needing less support but not ready to leave the program.

November 2016
The Independence Network holds a community 5-year celebration.

June 2017
NJ families come to JEVS and request replication of the program in NJ.

August 2018
Independence Network of Collingswood officially starts with 2 founding members.

September 2018
Narberth and Collingswood locations began to hold social events together.

March 2020
The Independence Network adds virtual programming and support to include both programs and adapt to the conditions of the pandemic.

 

Thank You Clara Thompson for Your Commitment To Independence Network Through the Years

The JEVS Independence Network is a true collaboration among members, their families, and JEVS Human Services.

Over the last 10 years these cooperative efforts have enabled our program communities to thrive and expand. Since its inception, one important constant of the program has been Clara Thompson. As Senior Vice President of Community Living and Home Supports, Clara has championed the Independence Network programs from day one. Clara’s vision and innovative leadership are still a driving force within the programs and an ever-present source of support for the Independence Network team, members and their families.

Clara was part of the genesis of the program when she, along with founding members David Miller and Adam Fuerman (and their parents) collectively took a leap of faith and pioneered this new PA program model.

Like the Independence Network, Clara’s entire career reflects a genuine commitment to supporting individuals with disabilities to ensure they have equal access to a rich, full, meaningful community life. Her steady support makes a difference every day, and for that, we are all grateful.

Thank you, Clara!

Socialization and Connection are Key to Success of Independence Network

Associate Director Meghan McHugh with members of Independence Network of Collingswood enjoying the 2019 Narberth Scavenger Hunt, a favorite annual event.

By Meghan McHugh

When I started working for JEVS Independence Network 6 years ago, the program consisted of 16 members and 4 staff members. Fast forward to November of 2020 and we now have 30 members in Narberth, 23 members in New Jersey, and 16 staff between both programs. To say this program has grown would be an understatement. I am lucky to have been here from, almost, the beginning.

When families come to us and are interested in the program, we often hear about how their young adult struggles socially and the difficult time they have had making connections. It is no surprise that almost all 53 members say what they love most about the program are the social events and the friends they have made.

Our social events have changed a lot over the years. We started with doing very small events, either at the Clubhouse or within the Narberth community. We have expanded our events greatly by visiting numerous museums and cultural events in the city, attending professional Philadelphia sporting events, Anime Conventions, taking day trips to NYC, Washington DC and various NJ beaches, and much more. The members of the program are now more involved in the social event calendar planning process which they truly enjoy!

Over time we have become a partner to the Narberth community and are their go-to group when they need volunteers for community events. These volunteer opportunities have helped members to build connections outside of the program and within the community. Volunteering has also helped them to build on skills which can translate to paid employment.

We are not alone in having to adapt to significant changes since the pandemic began. By the end of March 2020, we completely shifted all our social events to virtual opportunities. The members in both programs have been able to maintain social connections and friendships throughout the pandemic.

Socialization and connection are so important for all of us and continues to be a huge benefit of the program. Through our social events we have been able to build connections and a rapport with the members which has opened trust and willingness to help them in other areas of their lives such as independent living skills building and employment.

Over the last 6 years, like the members in the program, I too have made lifelong friends through the Independence Network program. Here’s to the years ahead!

Looking Back on Ten Years of Independence

Since its founding in 2011 with four members, the Independence Network programs in Narberth and Collingswood have served more than 77 people to date.

By Lois Frischling

In 2008, my son, David, graduated from the Vocational Independence Program at New York Institute of Technology, and joined the POINT program in White Plains, NY, as one of the founding members. David was thriving there, but wanted to come home to Philadelphia. He missed his brothers (he’s one of triplets), he really missed his sports teams, and he even missed his parents. We could have found him an apartment, and possibly a job, but he would not have had a community or a way to make friends.

Our adult children with disabilities want and deserve the opportunity to have the rich and fulfilling lives their non-disabled siblings enjoy. They want independence, jobs, and friends. They deserve the dignity of taking risks and being challenged beyond our expectations. This is scary for parents, and difficult for someone living at home.

What we needed didn’t exist. We contacted other interested families and all got to work. Based on POINT, we had a model with these crucial components:

1. The right agency to partner with. Parents considered becoming a 501(c)(3) and running the program ourselves, but quickly discarded that idea. Staffing, billing, insurance, taxes, and assessment of applications require professional expertise and time at a level unattainable for amateurs and volunteers, no matter how well-educated and enthusiastic. JEVS Human Services has a 75 year history and a mission that PIN (Philadelphia Independence Network) fits well. JEVS’ commitment to building a region-wide vocational program for people with disabilities is vital to PIN.

2. PIN is a genuine collaboration among JEVS, parents, and members. David attended schools that claimed parental involvement was welcome, i.e. please bring cupcakes to the bake sale. At PIN, parents drove the founding of the program. We have helped shape the program, and continue to help market, enrich, and support it. The founding parents saw our initial involvement as an opportunity to help design a program for our own children, as well as the other young adults who would eventually join. Continued parental involvement has lead to continuous changes in the program. For example, dissatisfaction with the original model of vocational support has led to a complete restructuring, where it is now fully integrated into the program. PIN is able to adapt to the changing needs of the members with unusual flexibility and sensitivity. And, the PIN staff is always willing to help support the parents as their children go through the challenges of becoming independent adults.

3. Program location is crucial to independence and building community. Narberth is a safe, welcoming neighborhood with shopping, restaurants, a movie theatre, bank, park and easy access to all Philadelphia has to offer. There’s no need to drive; every-thing is accessible by walking or public transportation. PIN members are part of the larger community; they volunteer and participate in many community activities.

4. PIN is a diverse community. Admission to the program is not based on having a specific disability diagnosis, but on having the ability to live independently and safely with support. PIN has members on the autism spectrum and others who are not, leading to members’ increased understanding and ability to get along with a variety of people. Members bring different strengths to the program along with different challenges. Their interests and needs help drive the selection of activities and enrichments.

PIN is a community, and members have friendships and active social lives. David has a job, friends, activities and the support he needs to be successful. And, PIN makes it possible for members’ parents to lead more independent lives as well.

 

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