As essential services continue through the nation’s response to coronavirus, one nonprofit agency is doing everything possible to bring structure and unity to members’ days, and bring smiles to their faces.

At Community Access Unlimited, day programs are closed in compliance with state efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19, but direct support professionals who work with people with disabilities and youth at risk continue to provide on-site supervision and support 24 hours per day, seven days a week. CAU is a Union County-based, statewide nonprofit that strives to integrate people with disabilities and youth at risk into the general community through comprehensive supports.

“We wanted to brighten members’ days stuck at home with fun activities while supporting local businesses at the same time,” said Tracy Lebaron, managing director of behavioral services at CAU. 

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From art challenges such as “crazy hat day” to challenges to get active, members and staff have used the daily CAU Challenge to start the day on a fun note. It doesn’t hurt that the daily winners received a $250 credit to order a deluxe to-go meal from a local restaurant, supporting small businesses all around Union County. The CAU Challenge will stimulate business to local restaurants during COVID-19 and provides an example of COVID-19 civic response that other organizations – for-profit or non-profit - can replicate among their staff, members, customers or others.

“It helps me not think about the virus much,” said member Kimberly Rosato. “It keeps me happy. I hope we win again.” 

Member Joyce Cargle said she misses coming to work at the CAU office, but the challenge is helping everyone keep busy.

“We have our moments but we’re making it,” Cargle said. “Orchard (program) is great, we’re all just trying to get through this issue.”

Staff member Joy Monroe agrees. She said staff were beginning to wonder how to help members from becoming restless and bored.  

“They’re excited, it is something to look forward to,” she said. “I’ve noticed that my members are making sure that everyone is included so we’re proud of that.”

This week, children of CAU staff members have been invited to get in on the fun, and are invited to send pictures in a weekly creative challenge with a $200 gift card prize. 

“Everyone’s safety is our chief concern, and we thank our employees for their continued dedication during this challenging time,” said Bernadette Griswold, executive director. “Seeing pictures of our members enjoying themselves during this challenge has been a highlight of my day.”

The agency has also quickly become a resource in the coronavirus crisis, and maintains a web page full of resources for the families they serve and professionals in social services. At caunj.org/resources/coronavirus-information/ you can find information for and by people with disabilities, social services updates related to the virus response, and a call to ask Congress to address the needs of people with disabilities during the crisis. 

As vital services for people with disabilities and youth at risk continue during this unprecedented time, CAU is working to meet growing and changing needs. Learn more about supporting CAU and become a monthly donor at www.caunj.org/support-us/.

About Community Access Unlimited

Community Access Unlimited (CAU), celebrating more than 40 years in 2020, supports people with special needs in achieving real lives in the community. CAU provides support and gives voice to adults and youth who traditionally have little support and no voice in society. CAU helps people 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. CAU currently serves more than 6,000 individuals and families, with the number served growing each year. For more information about CAU and its services, contact us by phone at 908.354.3040, online at www.caunj.org or by mail at 80 West Grand Street, Elizabeth, NJ 07202.

CAU is Hiring! 

Community Access Unlimited continues to expand and we have a number of full time and part time openings available. Contact our HR department at (908)354-3040 ext. 4203. For a full list of available positions, visit www.caunj.org