by Natalie DiSandro, Associate Director

It is the mission of the Independence Network to foster independent living skills and help the members lead a fulfilling life. Employment supports were built into the model of the program, and the Career Navigator position has been a part of the program for 8 years. The Career Navigator helps our members pursue and maintain gainful employment which then leads to increased financial independence. We believe in knowing and supporting people in all areas of their lives, and work is a big part of life! Read on to learn more about Vy’s journey within the Independence Network and what she does day-to-day to support our members in their employment goals.

What has been your personal journey with the Independence Network of Collingswood? What initially drew you to the position you applied for?

I heard about the position through one of the Independence Network parents who is a client at my sister’s salon. After learning more about the position, I knew I was interested and made the jump to apply. I graduated with a Psychology degree and had been in the job market searching for a job where I could use what I’ve learned. I started as a Community Support Counselor in January 2020, moved on to become a Mentor in July 2021, and now have been a Career Navigator since January 2022. I’ve learned so much throughout the past few years and can’t wait to continue to grow and learn more in my role.

What makes our approach to independent living unique?

The Independence Network approaches independent living in a way where our members are comfortable and have a direct hand in their journey of becoming independent adults. Our members live independently in the community, either in a house or apartment on their own or with roommates. Every few months, we meet with members and their families to review their long-term and short-term goals and discuss ways to achieve them. The team support that we provide is unique to every individual, and I personally believe it is important because no two people are the same.

During the pandemic, you were such an important part of keeping everyone connected. Can you talk a little about that experience and some of the creative strategies you initiated?

I had only been with JEVS for three months when lockdowns began, and we had to figure out how to virtually provide support and keep the Independence Network members connected to each other. So, I immediately started researching different online tools we could use. I compiled and shared a list of the different online options with our director, Jill. We chose to use Zoom and get creative in the ways we could engage with members. Some of the many activities we hosted virtually were Movie Nights, JackBox Parties, Independence Network Show & Tell, Museum Tours, and so much more. I am so glad we were able to host these activities and provide crucial support to our members during such a stressful time.

Let’s move to your work as Career Navigator. Can you talk about the many things you do in this role? Can you walk me through the different types of support you provide as Career Navigator? (Job Exploration, Follow-Along, etc.)

As a Career Navigator, I provide employment support to the members of the Independence Network. This support includes guidance in the following areas: Job Exploration, Identifying Internship and Employment Opportunities, Resume Editing, Interview Preparation, Informational Interviews, Job-Coaching & Training, Follow-Along and Educational Advancements/Opportunities. I also facilitate weekly Career Readiness sessions for the members to learn more and build on their skills. We discuss many social aspects of work, professionalism, and how to have a healthy work-life balance.

How do you think your experience as a Mentor prepared you for the Career Navigator role?

I am very glad to have come into the Career Navigator role after being a Mentor because it shapes the way I approach my work. Since I had gotten to know the members as individuals, I was better able to help them find a job that was the best fit. It reminds me to cultivate a relationship with the member and know them as individuals before focusing on employment. The better the relationship is that you have with the individual, the more successful you are in finding a good job match for that person.

Can you share a success story or two about members that are meaningful to you?

There is a member I currently work with who has two part-time jobs. The first is working at Wawa, and the second is being a Teacher’s Aide. During lockdown, he was let go from the school where he previously worked. Once the lockdowns were lifted, he wanted to look for another Teacher’s Aide position. We applied to countless positions for almost two years, and he became very discouraged. He was discouraged enough to start looking in a different direction, but an opportunity came up, and I encouraged him to apply for it. The many months of interview preparation and rejections from other preschools prepared him for this interview opportunity, and he got the job! Now, he is happily working as an Instructional Aide and is thriving.

Another member I currently work with used to work at the Christmas Tree Shops as a housekeeper, but the company filed for bankruptcy back in August 2023. The member worked until the very end, and we together we asked his supervisor for a recommendation letter before the store closed. We applied to many places; then Boscov’s reached out and scheduled an interview with the member. We prepared for the interview and went together. The member was hired on the spot! He currently works for Boscov’s as a custodian and has been enjoying working there.

Lastly, what are your favorite parts of this role?

My favorite parts of this role are contributing to the members’ quality of life and their road to independence. As individuals, we are all on our own journey to build a life that is meaningful so being a part of that for someone else is truly a blessing.

Vy’s contribution to the JEVS Independence Network community and diverse talents are critical to the success of the program. Her deep commitment to helping people find and keep meaningful work makes a difference every day!

Posted in Blog JEVS Program: Independence Network