ROSELLE, NJ - Community Access Unlimited kept up an annual walkathon tradition on Saturday, albeit in a virtual format, to support services for people with special needs.

Donations are still being accepted for the Community Access Unlimited Ira Geller Walkathon and will support services as well as help cover expenses incurred due to COVID-19. CAU is a Union County-based, statewide nonprofit that works to integrate people with disabilities and youth at risk into the general community through comprehensive supports.

With some of the CAU community coming together to walk safely with members of their households in Warinanco Park in Roselle, the virtual walk was an opportunity for the community to rally in support of the agency, and for members and staff to meet with friends. Attendees walked in their own communities and tracked their progress on the Nike Run Club app.

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At Warinanco Park, members spoke about returning to programs and work, finding new jobs, and the importance helping one another through the pandemic.

One youth services member in the Transitional Opportunities Program, Shaquin Ingram, started working as a medical assistant this summer at Trinitas Regional Medical Center. Fellow TOP member Ramone Cajigas said he was planning to start college this fall to study psychology to pursue a career as a psychiatrist or mental health counselor.

“I like nursing and I like helping people, and seeing different things in the hospital, Ingram said. “I want to become a registered nurse.”

Other CAU members and staff also reflected on the values of helping people or a passion for supporting others, especially during the pandemic.

“I’m doing something important- we have to keep the members safe,” said Tabitha Floyd, a member and employee who ensures CAU residential programs are sanitized as part of the mobile cleaning crew. “I tell them to wear their masks to be safe.”

Assistant support counselor Omosefe Idemudia joined CAU in July; she said she wasn’t afraid of working in direct care during the pandemic. 

“I wanted to work here because I like helping other people,” Idemudia said. “I like taking care of people and doing whatever they need. We try to get our members out of the program as much as possible by going on walks or to the park.” 

It is exciting news for CAU members and staff that the phased reopening of New Jersey includes a reopening of day programs this month for people with disabilities, as well as other services, such as employment programs. 

“It’s been helpful to have my staff to get through everything,” said member Genevieve Smith. “I look forward to going back to reading, math and art at day program.” 

As crucial programs reopen for people with special needs, provider agencies are tasked not only with intense planning and safety requirements, but also fundraising to help offset the costs of safety and reorganization through the pandemic. 

“We had a successful turnout today and I think everyone was happy to see each other,” said Saranya Thana, director of fundraising. “We have had to rethink funding tactics for the remainder of the year and ask for continued support from our wonderful friends in the community.” 

CAU will be holding a virtual auction fundraiser in mid-October in lieu of an annual gala. Sponsorship opportunities are available for businesses and organizations. To become a sponsor or to learn more about these opportunities, contact Saranya Thana at SThana@caunj.org or 908.354.3040 ext. 4376.

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