Associate Director Meghan McHugh with members of Independence Network of Collingswood enjoying the 2019 Narberth Scavenger Hunt, a favorite annual event.

By Meghan McHugh

When I started working for JEVS Independence Network 6 years ago, the program consisted of 16 members and 4 staff members. Fast forward to November of 2020 and we now have 30 members in Narberth, 23 members in New Jersey, and 16 staff between both programs. To say this program has grown would be an understatement. I am lucky to have been here from, almost, the beginning.

When families come to us and are interested in the program, we often hear about how their young adult struggles socially and the difficult time they have had making connections. It is no surprise that almost all 53 members say what they love most about the program are the social events and the friends they have made.

Our social events have changed a lot over the years. We started with doing very small events, either at the Clubhouse or within the Narberth community. We have expanded our events greatly by visiting numerous museums and cultural events in the city, attending professional Philadelphia sporting events, Anime Conventions, taking day trips to NYC, Washington DC and various NJ beaches, and much more. The members of the program are now more involved in the social event calendar planning process which they truly enjoy!

Over time we have become a partner to the Narberth community and are their go-to group when they need volunteers for community events. These volunteer opportunities have helped members to build connections outside of the program and within the community. Volunteering has also helped them to build on skills which can translate to paid employment.

We are not alone in having to adapt to significant changes since the pandemic began. By the end of March 2020, we completely shifted all our social events to virtual opportunities. The members in both programs have been able to maintain social connections and friendships throughout the pandemic.

Socialization and connection are so important for all of us and continues to be a huge benefit of the program. Through our social events we have been able to build connections and a rapport with the members which has opened trust and willingness to help them in other areas of their lives such as independent living skills building and employment.

Over the last 6 years, like the members in the program, I too have made lifelong friends through the Independence Network program. Here’s to the years ahead!

Posted in Blog JEVS Program: Independence Network