The end-of-year holidays and New Year marked a major milestone for several young adults with special needs in South Jersey. They experienced the season independently…away from home…on their own. The last few weeks of 2018 were filled with a “Friendsgiving” feast and get-togethers, as well as lots of festive cookie baking, decorating, and crafting. Already a tight-knit group of trusted friends, they walked around their new hometown, took local trips and traveled as far away as Yardley, Pa., to capture the glow of holiday light displays.
Meanwhile, JEVS Human Services celebrated a similar milestone—the successful launch this year of the program that these young adults joined: Independence Network in Collingswood, NJ, which is based on a successful model program started in 2011 in Narberth, Pa. It is a supported independent living community for those with disabilities who, along with family members and/or advocates, work with JEVS staff to set goals, and identify interests and needs. We ended 2018 with seven new members; two more members are joining in January, and several others have plans to join in 2019.
Our founding members, Chris and Mike, have enjoyed their newfound freedom in many exciting ways. Chris was selected as a vendor for the Collingswood community Second Saturday event recently, where he displayed his artwork and sold several pieces! “The Independence Network program is wonderful. I’m on my own path now,” he said. Mike agreed, “If I wasn’t living here with Chris, I’d be home with my parents.” He’s working at the Wawa in town.
For other members now living independently with support from JEVS, like Shawna and Gabe, exploring the community and finding work have been a big part of the process of making it on their own. Shawna has a new volunteer role at the United Methodist Home in Collingswood, where she is leading arts and crafts activities with residents and helping with administrative needs. Through his persistence and follow-ups, Gabe got a job at the Ritz Theater in nearby Oaklyn, NJ.
Zack and Josh, who recently moved into a cozy, two-story rowhome just off the main drag—Haddon Avenue—in Collingswood, NJ, were assisted by JEVS staff in learning independent living skills, such as cooking, cleaning, laundry, money management, traveling, home safety, etc. Both also have jobs.
Our newest members, Zachary and Kevin, are both in Special Olympics and are excited about making new connections and exploring new opportunities in their friendly and welcoming new hometown. Zachary is a recent graduate of Career & Community Studies (CCS) at The College of New Jersey, a four-year, college-based certificate program for young adults with intellectual disabilities. Other members of Independence Network are graduates of this program too. He is looking forward to finding a job, when he’s not spending time on his banjo. Kevin is joining Independence Network in January. He works at Wegmans and enjoys talking to the locals, going to shops, and learning to get around via the PATCO Speedline and Uber. “I like hanging out in Collingswood, because I feel really comfortable walking around.”
One young woman joining soon is Kelsey, who has already spent a lot of time with the Independence Network members. She is attracted to the program for the friendships: “I really love all of the members.”
These are just a few examples of how life has changed for young individuals desiring to leave their parents’ nests. They’ve grown in their independence. They’ve become active members of their community. They are leading fulfilling, productive lives by volunteering and working. They’ve developed trusting companionships.
>> If you are interested in learning more about JEVS Independence Network-Collingswood and how the program supports individuals in their independent living, please contact us in one of these ways: