Getting to know beloved Dining Services worker Susan Gelb


Photo Courtesy of Corinna Vlahoyiannis

Corinna Vlahoyiannis

If you’ve ever eaten in Connelly’s Belle Air Terrace, you’ve seen Susan Gelb. While Gelb can be spotted busily wiping tables, restocking plasticware, napkins, condiments and potato chips, she always manages to greet everyone that passes with a big smile and cheery “hello.”

After a feature in the Philly Voice this past August, Gelb seemed no stranger to the interviewee hot-seat, eager to share her story and experience at Villanova.

Gelb has worked at the University since 2006. She found employment when joining the Judith Creed Horizons for Achieving Independence (JCHAI) whose mission is to empower adults with developmental disabilities including autism to live and work as independently as possible in the community.  

“We educate and train the individuals who receive our services about all facets of work and daily living skills that will help them live in their own apartments and have jobs in the community,”  JCHAI Executive Director, Stacy Jarett Levitan, said. 

Levitan continued to say “we teach cooking skills, personal care, home upkeep, how to use transportation, social skills, and specific job-related skills; such as resume writing and how to navigate workplace dilemmas.” 

Before moving to Bryn Mawr, Gleb lived with her mother and had to take multiple buses before arriving to work. With the help of JCHAI, Gelb, since 2000, has lived in an apartment in Bryn Mawr with fellow JCHAI members. She still commutes independently to work, but is now thankful it is only a short train ride away. 

Living so close to the University neighborhood, Gelb describes often seeing students in the Bryn Mawr Wawa, and is often asked “Hi, don’t you work in Connelly,” where she replies, “Yeah!”

“Doing the tables and making sure they’re nice and clean for the next people,” Gelb describes as being her favorite part about her job. “I love working with the students, they always say thanks when you do the tables because it’s flu season.”  

“JCHAI dispels the myth that people with disabilities cannot live and work independently,” said Levitan. “70% of JCHAI participants work in competitive, integrated employment.” 

When asked how JCHAI has helped her, Gelb replied with an excited smile, saying they “helped me become more independent, have my own apartment, and not being with my mom too much.”

Outside of work, Gelb shares that she takes singing lessons, loves to go to the movies and read books. She recommends the movie “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” the next time you’re flipping through the channels. 

She also enjoys travel and with the coordination of JCHAI, Gelb has taken an annual summer vacation, most recently to Washington D.C.

And if you’re wondering what is her favorite thing to eat at Connely, Gelb says, “the wraps and the chicken.”

Gelb is not the only University employee part of JCHAI, however. 

David Actman works in Dining Services at Donohue and Debbie Jacobs in Dining Services at the Law School.   

Levitan recommends, “for those who want to be involved with JCHAI, that they they develop a volunteer project to help other organizations and invite JCHAI participants to join them.  JCHAI participants love to give back!”