As an essential human services organization, JEVS Human Services is committed to “making hope happen” for all individuals we serve, especially during the current COVID-19 crisis. For many of our vulnerable clients or those with disabilities—who turn to us for supports as they navigate life independently—new plans were quickly put into place when the stay-at-home orders began to go into effect in mid-March 2020.
How could we continue to provide the in-person activities, counseling and life skills training that clients rely on? How could our clients continue to thrive and overcome the social isolation that so many of them have experienced their whole lives?
April is Autism Awareness Month, and a time for JEVS to highlight the many programs that serve individuals on the spectrum. JEVS Independence Network is a program that provides young adults with disabilities the freedom to learn, experience and achieve their life goals through individualized planning and support. The program members—of Independence Network in Collingswood, NJ, and Philadelphia Independence Network in Narberth, Pa.—live independently with supports from JEVS staff and family.
As one can imagine, many of the members’ lives were flipped upside down when talk of the spread of COVID-19 into the U.S. began to consume their days.
A large part of the program involves the daily social interactions the members look forward to (many of which are facilitated or planned by JEVS staff). Working, volunteering, taking day trips, community outings, social events, game nights, shopping, dining, and so much more.
All came to a halt. But the program could not. Most of all, JEVS staff had to help 47 members quickly adapt when change, in general, may be a major struggle for some. And, independent living without support? How was this going to be possible, especially for our newer members who only just recently left their parents’ homes for the first time to live on their own.
“JEVS staff and members would have to jump into a new way of life, which would have to be handled in a tender, gentle, supportive way,” said Program Director of Operations, Jill Gromen.
“Staff began to go to great lengths—at all hours of the day—to help members feel at ease. We needed to keep members engaged, and help to turn feelings of fear and uncertainty into positivity and hope.”
With health and safety a first, top priority, staff communicated constantly with members through phone and video chats. Counseling could happen in this manner too. Members kept in touch through Zoom and found other phone apps—like online games—to keep themselves busy, remotely with each other. Virtual movie watching, yoga, cooking, painting. Members were staying active and connected.
Unfortunately, 37 of the members have been furloughed or lost their jobs. Staff are assisting with filing for unemployment and accessing benefits, and working with members to create action plans for future employment prospects and career advancement goals.
As we end the first full month in quarantine, Independence Network members are getting used to the new ways. They’ve adapted, and expressed wanting to keep some virtual activities in place even when stay-at-home orders are lifted. They’ve truly proven the program mission of independence.
During some downtime, our staff, members and families have had time to jot down their thoughts, feelings and initial reactions to the pandemic. Click on the links below to read their perspectives and insights.