The Franolich family, Michael on left
For the Franoliches, talks of a new supported independent living program in South Jersey got them excited. Their son Michael, age 23, could have the opportunity to leave the nest of his parent’s home and go out on his own, land a job, and make friends.
The Grande family felt the same. They embraced the idea of helping their 26-year-old son Chris to become self-sufficient; for him to have the chance to cook for himself, manage his money, travel around the area—daily life skills that so many of us take for granted.
Michael and Chris are now founding members of JEVS Independence Network, launching this spring in Collingswood, N.J. Replicating our successful model program started in 2011 in Narberth, Pa., JEVS Human Services is providing this new option for young adults with disabilities who want to live independently and thrive in the community.
Through the Independence Network program, JEVS provides individuals the freedom to learn and experience, and achieve their life’s goals. Program members live in their own apartments throughout the nearly 2-square mile town and receive support from the organization.
“Every parent of a child with disabilities wonders about their future, especially how they will live after we are gone from this Earth,” said Chris’ father, Phil. He notes that there are a lot of supports and systems for kids when they are under 21, but then parents have to figure out what is in place for when they become adults.
“The burden shifts to the families to provide most or all of the systems and supports. A program like JEVS Independence Network provides an opportunity for our young adults to live on their own, as independently as possible, supported by an organization such as JEVS and to know that they are safe, well-cared for, and on their way to becoming a thriving part of a great community! Being a founding member is an exciting opportunity to us because it allows us to help ‘form’ the program, and will allow our son to help develop the program and how it operates.”
Fulfilling the JEVS motto of “making hope happen” and the organization’s mission of helping individuals achieve fulfilling and productive lives, the success of this model program lies in the myriad of opportunities that JEVS provides to its members, such as volunteering in the community, having stable employment, engaging in community life, and participating in activities and outings at museums, sporting events, cultural sites, etc. Each Independence Network member, along with family, work with JEVS staff to set his/her own goals and identify interests and needs. Resources help individuals as they work through challenges of being independent, while improving life skills, social skills, recreation skills, and work skills. Most of all, members are encouraged to make choices that help them improve their lives and build self-reliance and self-esteem.
“I was attracted to the program because of its community structure and the opportunity it gives Michael to live his own life,” said his Mom, Ellen. “I believe it will keep him active. The small size of the program also makes it a certainty that Michael’s goals and needs will be met. And when emergencies arise, he’s going to be taken care of by people he trusts–whether the issue is an illness or trouble at the supermarket.” His Dad Mike added, “Michael likes the idea of freedom that his apartment represents and the chance to meet a bunch of new friends in a cool town. This program, in our own area, is a gift.”
JEVS selected Collingswood to pilot our first independent living community in New Jersey because the town is vibrant, active and encourages its diverse residents to get involved in the close-knit town.
“The selection of a community is really important for us,” said Jay Spector, JEVS president and CEO. “It needs to be a place that is accessible and rich with opportunities for members to become a part of the community, to live, work, volunteer, and build relationships—the things we all look for when choosing a place to live.”
“We are honored that JEVS feels Collingswood will be a supportive and welcoming place,” said Collingswood Mayor James Maley. “It speaks not only to our revitalization as a walkable and accessible town, but to the character of our current residents that JEVS feel this is a great place for their members to live happy, supported, involved lives.”
For parents or advocates who are researching options for their adult-children as they age out of school and want to achieve independent living, JEVS Independence Network will be hosting an information session on Saturday, April 28, 2018.