JVS Frequency team member Tim Scott interacts with Ricky Lee during a day at the virtual Choices Day Program. The program meets 9 a.m.-3 p.m. weekdays.

JVS Frequency team member Tim Scott interacts with Ricky Lee during a day at the virtual Choices Day Program. The program meets 9 a.m.-3 p.m. weekdays.

Photo provided by Alison Schwartz

JVS program helps those with disabilities through COVID

By: Jacob Herbert | Metro | Published April 23, 2021

METRO DETROIT — JVS Human Services have made it their mission to help anyone and everyone they can during the pandemic, from seniors to youth and everyone in between. Through the Choices Day Program, JVS is able to reach those living with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Prior to COVID, the program would take trips to the Detroit Zoo or the North American International Auto Show in an effort to work toward their primary focus of community integration.

When COVID-19 hit, the program lost a vital part of what it offers for the populations it serves.

“Right now, community integration is kind of the opposite of what we’re supposed to do,” Program Director Nathan Volz said. “It’s kind of turned everything on its head for us, and we had to think of some innovative ways to reach people. It’s not just about engaging people; it’s also about their health. Like a lot of other programs, we started thinking of ways we could reach people virtually in a way that they would find interesting.”

In order to continue to serve those that they do, the program spent the fall revamping their virtual programs. Volz said the first thing program organizers did was think about how they could replicate what they were doing before, but virtually.

After hours of brainstorming, program leaders came up with what they call “Choices On The Go,” where JVS staff travel with an iPad to a certain location and livestream the trip for participants watching from home.

For those who are unable to make the virtual tour due to personal conflict, JVS came up with “JVS Frequency,” which acts like a radio station. JVS staff are made available in a virtual chat room to talk with participants 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Mondays-Fridays. Those attending the program are free to come and go as they please throughout the day.

“It really was very successful,” Volz said. “We had some individuals who would come on at 9 in the morning and stay the entire day. We got to the point where we had to let people know it’s OK to step away, we’re still here.”

Volz said those who attend the Choices Day Program depend on routines and the daily interactions that they have.

“Being able to offer anything that provides some structure to their lives is really critical right now,” he said. “Currently, we’re probably twice as many people on a daily average that we would (have) at our regular program.”

Amy Montri’s half brother Ricky is 56 and has Down syndrome. The two were raised separately, but Montri always knew she had a brother out there. After her father died in 1992, Montri worked to locate her brother. After tracking him down and hiring multiple lawyers, Montri brought Ricky home to live with her in Birmingham.

“When he first came to live with us I knew absolutely nothing about what benefits were available or how any of it would work,” Montri said. “We were connected with (the Macomb Oakland Regional Center), which is an advocacy program which acts as an intermediary between families like ours and all the various benefits available. He has a support coordinator there who said we could get him involved in this program at JVS.”

Ricky began attending the Choices Day Program two days a week, then moved to three, then to five.

Montri said the main thing she needs help with is keeping Ricky engaged throughout the day. He was pulled out of JVS when they shut down for COVID-19. Ricky began attending the Choices Day Program when it went online.

“When we found out that they were going to start doing online JVS, it sounded great,” Montri said. “I didn’t know how engaged he would be sitting in front of a computer. We logged in and at the beginning I stayed with him and helped him stay engaged, but they’re really good at calling everybody by name and acknowledging them. The staff does a good job with making sure that everybody who is online is included.”

Montri was impressed with how good JVS is at catering to different personalities and needs. When everything shut down due to the pandemic, Montri said they were the only ones to step up to give Ricky the assistance he needed.

“He deserves to be engaged, happy and doing things that he’s interested in,” she said. “Being able to do that online when he can’t really leave the house has been really beneficial.”