SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — Gainful employment, personal growth, impressive athletic achievements, unlimited artistic and creative opportunities and a sense of real community are just some of the many benefits enjoyed by clients at JESPY House, a South Orange-based nonprofit for adults with Intellectual and Developmental disabilities.

JESPY House has been helping clients lead independent and fulfilling lives since its inception in 1978. What began as a program with four clients, three staff and one location has grown to more than 250 clients, more than 100 staffers, seven residential locations and three program sites.

Having recently marked its 40th anniversary, JESPY’s services include the Work Readiness and Employment Engagement (WREE), Social Wellness & Expressive Arts (SWEA), Residential, Athletics & Fitness and Transitions programs. Transitions provides programming for high school graduates that focuses on activities, job and daily living skills and more.

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“I’ve been a part of Transitions’ Life Skills program, where staff helps me learn skills to live on my own, find a job and stick to a budget,” said long-time JESPY client Alec Reed. “When I first started at JESPY, I really didn’t go out in the community much…soon I was able to go out by myself any day I wanted.” 

One of JESPY’s most sought after programs is its strong vocational program called WREE (Work Readiness and Employment Engagement) WREE’s staff continually seek and identify new employment opportunities for clients and job coaches to assist clients with job searches, and on-site training. Staff also offers pre-placement counseling and job coaching and travel training.

Currently, an estimated 126 clients are working in the areas of retail, food services, child care, education, cosmetology, insurance and more in towns throughout Essex, Union, Hudson, Passaic and Morris counties.

“JESPY has been instrumental in my growth and development over the past 34 years,” said client Jody Kanner. “It was here that I gained valuable work experience which transcended into my 30-year career at Prudential. Throughout my time at Prudential, I was able to grow professionally by assuming various new roles as the company transitioned.”

Within the Transitions Day and SWEA (Social Wellness & Expressive Arts) programs, clients also enjoy an array of recreation, artistic, and socialization activities that help foster interaction within the community and build life skills and creativity. Popular sessions include nutrition, knitting, gardening, sip & paint, computer skills, Zumba and more.

During their time at JESPY, many clients have expressed that they have found a place to build their confidence, meet new friends and gain independence.

JESPY is a unique community within a community that has grown to accommodate the needs and interests of JESPY clients. From its Shared Housing Program, established in 1998, to its support of 140 clients who live independently in apartments in South Orange, helping clients to build lives of their own choosing remains as important today as it was when JESPY was founded.

As a father of a JESPY client recently shared that "without JESPY, [his] daughter would not have a life," and that he and his wife "would not have a life either.”

Recognizing that the I/DD population ages earlier than the general population and that aging compounds some disabilities, JESPY established an Aging in Place Initiative with funding support from the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey. Funding has allowed JESPY to train staff on how to identify and address those changing needs and has helped JESPY to provide tailored programming to keep older clients engaged and healthy.  

This led to a two-day Aging in Place Symposium last fall with renowned thought leaders, educators and national experts providing sought-after information on timely topics impacting adults aging with I/DD. Not only did the symposium share best practices for those who work with and care for those with developmental disabilities, it provided practical information for families of those with I/DD.

This spring, JESPY’s Aging in Place Initiative will add another new element—the opening of The Michael Och House, A Center for Aging at JESPY.

Made possible through the support of the Och Family and other donors, the fully accessible Och House will become home to nine older JESPY clients. The Grand Opening event for the Och House will be held on June 2.

JESPY House serves 250 adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities ranging in age from 18 to 70. For more information, log onto jespy.org.