by Richard Ilgenfritz, Main Line Times

Although activity is slowly coming back after the COVID-19 lockdown, at least one organization that works with young adults with disabilities has had to double their efforts over the past few months to help those in need.

JEVS Independence Network, Philadelphia Independence Network (PIN) of Narberth helps its members achieve a more independent lifestyle, such as getting and taking care of their own apartment, help in getting jobs, socialization and other activities.

But with the recent lockdown, JEVS have had to ramp up that mission.

Bala Cynwyd resident Susan Denman’s son, Jacob, has been a member of JEVS for about the past five years, after graduating from Eastern University.

Jacob is on the autism spectrum. Over the years, they have helped him get an apartment and then land a data entry job in Philadelphia. Denman said without JEVS, Jacob, 30, would still be living at home.

But when the pandemic and lockdowns struck, everything changed. Work and other social activities were canceled.

“They (JEVS) quickly sprang into action with virtual activities, and it’s become richer and richer as needed,” Denman said in a recent interview. “We did a lot of walking and outdoor activities with individual members so they could keep with the social distancing but also remain in close touch with all the members.”

Like lots of other jobs, the shutdown caused many of the JEVS members to have to leave their employment.

Jacob was able to do a little work of his data entry work virtually, but with the shutdown, there just wasn’t very much data to enter, she said.

Denman said a few members who work in places like grocery stores were able to keep working, and a few others could work from home, but she didn’t think there were that many members still working.

That’s when the staff at JEVS increased its outreach to parents to make sure everyone was still doing fine, she said.

“You can imagine the psychological trauma this has brought on with these kids,” Denman said. “These young adults with disabilities could be freaking out because of the change. But that’s not what happened.”

Marc Tannenbaum, director JEVS Independence Network in Narberth, said with many of their members not working through the lockdowns and with their schedules being much more open, they are finding members are discussing some of the same issues and concerns.

“I think everyone is talking about the same issues, and that makes it very easy for them to talk about it,” Tannenbaum said.

During a recent Black Lives Matter march in Narberth, Denman said Jacob wanted to attend, so Tannenbaum asked to be sure she was okay with him going.

Tannenbaum described JEVS as a supportive independent living community. All the members live independently in their own apartments. The apartments are all in Narberth or neighboring Wynnewood.

“We’re here to support them with living independently,” he said.

According to Tannenbaum, JEVS helps with issues such as cooking, budgeting, working, laundry, and any other independent living skills. There is also a career navigator that helps with issues like resume building and a job coach.

In Narberth, where the offices are located, there is also a space called the clubhouse for members to socialize.

The overall support network for the members, Denman said, is what has pleased her about JEVS.

“I know they are talking about all these kinds of political and social issues and how the world is changing since COVID and other things that are happening, and it’s all so positive from a growth perspective,” Denman said. “I don’t know where’d we’d be with Jacob. It would be terrible. But it’s not. It’s more of a growth experience thanks to the support.”

Tannenbaum said the biggest component of the program is the socialization part. They have numerous activities, such as going to events in Philadelphia and the Narberth area.

“So although we’re here for support, it’s really about building their independence,” he said.

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Posted in Blog COVID19 In The News JEVS Program: Independence Network