What do Tastykake, Wawa, MANNA, Cradles to Crayons, and KleinLife have in common? They’re providing individuals with disabilities—all the way from age 81 down to 25—with their very first work experiences through volunteer opportunities. They’re providing a chance for people to learn job skills, feel a sense of pride in their hands-on duties, and interact with others—activities that are challenging for these men and women. These Philly-based companies are also helping JEVS Human Services transform its Community Collaborative program from a facility-based, adult day program to one that now focuses on community participation.

That’s the name of the game in the home- and community-based services arena. In recent years, JEVS has followed the trends in service delivery to individuals with mental illness and developmental disabilities by closing down larger institutional environments—such as our sheltered workshops and group homes—to community-based activities and living arrangements that better involve and integrate people with their communities and neighbors.

For decades, JEVS Community Collaborative, located in the Germantown section of Philadelphia, had provided recreational activities to individuals with severe disabilities. At the center, they created artwork and murals, had a horticulture club, engaged in music therapy, and did many other activities to encourage social interaction and emotional growth. Program participants also took trips to entertainment, sporting, and cultural events throughout region. They were getting out and about.

But, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania requires that individuals receiving disability services spend at least 25 percent of their time in the community.

“We determined if you really want people to be in the community, then you can’t have a physical facility that participants go to on a daily basis,” said Clara Thompson, vice president of community living and home supports at JEVS. “We slowly evolved our Community Collaborative program—involving staff, participants, family members and advocates—to the idea of spending 100 percent of the time out in the world. Despite some hesitation and reluctance, we have people in the community, and they’re really thriving.”

The “new and improved” JEVS Community Collaborative offers a three-pronged approach that has individuals volunteering and doing community service; engaging in learning experiences, such as taking classes; and exploring the community through visits to the limitless places and possibilities that Greater Philadelphia offers. Participants are accompanied by JEVS staff, as many need a lot of support or can’t verbalize.

Take 81-year-old Eddie. Like so many of the participants at Community Collaborative, he’s never been employed or part of a team. Now, he’s learning new skills at the Juniata Park Older Adult Center. (Forget retirement!)

“He has a great a time there meeting new friends, participating in various activities,” said Raven Hart, program manager at JEVS Community Collaborative. “Eddie is offered exercise, yoga, dance. They have amazing instructors to teach you all types of dances. Eddie has the opportunity to do recreational activities too, like bingo, arts, ceramics and more.”

At KleinLife and MANNA, which provide meals for homebound seniors, program participants deliver the packages with pride and purpose.

“They are getting to know the seniors after several deliveries,” said Thompson. “They are socializing with the seniors, who also don’t get much socialization. It’s a win-win all around.”

At Tastykake, program participants are labeling products and packing shelves. At Wawa, they are picking up the day-old perishable goods (bakery items, prepared foods, etc.) and delivering them to the shelters. At Cradles to Crayons, participants are cleaning donated essentials (like shoes) for the children that need them most.

“JEVS Human Services is led by the power of choice,” said Thompson. “Individuals get to choose if they want to participate in Community Collaborative-led services part-time or full-time. They have a say in where they want to go. They get to do what they want to do.”

For more information about JEVS Community Collaborative, call 267.350.8600 or visit this page.


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