ELIZABETH, NJ - Cupid’s arrow knows no bounds, striking connections between people of all races, religions, abilities and sexual orientations. Locally, a husband and wife with disabilities and a young LGBTQ couple who met through the nonprofit Community Access Unlimited are looking forward to celebrating Valentine’s Day.
Amanda and Wesley Strond of Plainfield are people with disabilities who married in 2004.
“We were supposed to get married in 2003, but I chickened out,” said Wesley, who added he quickly realized his mistake. “We got married the next year at Holy Grand Church.”
The Stronds enjoy going to movies and church events and recently celebrated Amanda’s birthday with staff members from Community Access Unlimited, where they are members. CAU is a Union County-based, statewide nonprofit that strives to integrate people with disabilities and at-risk youth into the general community through comprehensive supports. The Stronds also attend CAU’s annual Couples Night, a celebration of members with disabilities who are in loving, stable relationships.
While Amanda and Wesley are looking forward to Valentine’s Day, they said they don’t need a holiday to remind them of their love. According to Amanda, every day is Valentine’s Day.
“I’ve got my Valentine right here,” Wesley added, hugging his wife.
Romantic relationships are very healthy for people with disabilities, according to Jeremy Lefever, a behaviorist at CAU.
“People with disabilities are just like any other group,” he said. “They want respect, fair treatment, acceptance and, most of all, love. The general public has misplaced perceptions about love and relationships and how they impact the disability community. Adults with disabilities are able to and want to be in mutually romantic relationships and some eventually want to get married and have children. It is important that we afford them every opportunity to find love and romance.”
That is why CAU operates a Relationship and Sexuality Committee to help members and their families understand the importance of romantic relationships and empower members to fully expand their lives experiences, according to Lefever.
CAU also supports at-risk youth, two of which met at the agency and fell in love. Shameese Burnett and Cassandra Jeffers met at a CAU outing to a church event and felt the magic right away. Shameese surprised Cassandra on their first date with a trip to Denny’s and then again on their first Valentine’s Day.
“She decorated my apartment and cooked me dinner,” Cassandra said. “We had a dinner date.”
Shameese added that she also baked a heart-shaped cake. This will be the couple’s second Valentine’s Day, and Shameese said she plans to exceed the high bar she set last year.
“It’s a surprise,” Shameese said, smiling.
About Community Access Unlimited
Community Access Unlimited (CAU), celebrating its 40th year in 2019, supports people with special needs in achieving real lives in the community. CAU gives a voice to adults and youth who traditionally have little power in society, assisting its members with housing, life skills, employment, money management, socialization, and civic activities. CAU also supports opportunities for advocacy through training in assertiveness, decision-making and civil rights. Currently serving more than 5,000 individuals and families, CAU continues to grow each year. For more information about CAU and its services, visit caunj.org or contact us at 908.354.3040, firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail at 80 West Grand Street, Elizabeth, NJ 07202.