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 Independence Network fits well. JEVS’ commitment to building a region-wide vocational program for people with disabilities is vital to Independence Network.
2. The Independence Network 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 Independence Network, 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. Independence Network is able to adapt to the changing needs of the members with unusual flexibility and sensitivity. And, the Independence Network 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. Independence Network members are part of the larger community; they volunteer and participate in many community activities.
4. Independence Network 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. Independence Network 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.
Independence Network 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.