You see that smile? It lights up a room…and the parking lot each Friday morning at Christ Lutheran Community Church in Upper Darby, Pa. This is where Charlie (CJ) F. volunteers for Philabundance’s Fresh For All, a free produce market for the surrounding neighborhood. CJ loves his role here. He hands out a supply of veggies and other healthy goods, while grooving to the good tunes coming out of the nearby speaker. The visiting community members have gotten to know him. They, indeed, look forward to his happy grin and helpful handouts every week—rain or shine.
Flash back a few years, and CJ’s mother Adrienne was not all smiles as her son with down syndrome was finishing high school. She was truly uncertain of what the future would hold for him.
“When CJ graduated in 2012, I didn’t just want him sitting around and playing games,” she said. “Since he’s very trusting of people, we needed a program that we knew would be safe and put his best interests first, and we found that in JEVS Community Collaborative.”
JEVS Community Collaborative is a community participation program that helps individuals with intellectual disabilities to thrive and be productive in community settings. Prior to September 2017, the program was a facility-based adult day program. Staff filled participants’ days with arts and crafts, music, games, and lot of activities. They also took recreational trips around the city of Philadelphia. Upon intensive research and the state’s movement toward more community integration, JEVS Human Services decided to make a bold leap and transform its Community Collaborative program to being 100 percent in the community (as the program name states). This would help participants to grow in ways that weren’t experienced in the facility.
“When JEVS came to me with this new idea, I was nervous,” said CJ’s mom. “But to say he is flourishing would be an understatement. He is much more independent than I gave him credit for, and to be honest, I think I was holding him back.”
Through terrific partnerships with various organizations, CJ spends his days volunteering at different places. He could spend one day at MANNA, and then the next day he is breaking down boxes and handing out food to residents through Philabundance.
“I love being out and about,” CJ said. “It fills my day. I’ve made a lot of friends along the way.”
“He absolutely loves the work he does! He has matured. He comes home and completes tasks I never dreamed of him doing on his own,” Adrienne continued. “From putting toothpaste on his toothbrush, to laying out clothes for the next day, to making his own lunch. I’m just so proud of him, and I credit this program for his transformation. He loves his job so much that he even gets upset when he has a day off. Not only that, whereas I used to have to bring him everywhere and keep my eyes on him, it completely opens up my independence as well!”
Falone Gantt, associate director with JEVS Community Collaborative, thinks CJ’s transformation during the tranformation of the program has been a huge success for all parties involved.
“It’s awesome to see how the community embraces our program participants,” she said. “People really love them, and you can just see the sense of pride that our individuals have in being there and the confidence they gain knowing they are supported, welcomed and no different from anyone else. It’s infectious to see and be a part of.”