As the early January snow storm approached New Jersey and people emptied store shelves of batteries for flashlights, I had a warm feeling for the hundreds of members of Community Access Unlimited who live in homes where we have installed generators. Community Access is a nonprofit social services agency providing support programs and services to people with disabilities and youth served under the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to enable them to live independently in the community, in areas including housing, vocational and life-skills training, education, advocacy and recreation.

Community Access owns more than 250 properties that are home to hundreds of our members, many of whom rely on insulin or medical equipment and breathing machines, shower chairs, hospital beds and electrical wheel chairs. Others are medically fragile or have complex behavioral problems and it is essential they have heating and cooling year-round and that staff are able to maintain telephone systems for necessary communication throughout the agency.

When Hurricane Sandy hit, we learned how essential it is to ensure uninterrupted power for these properties. But unlike many other social service agencies that simply hope to make it through the next storm, we took concrete steps to ensure our members would remain safe should the power go out.

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Shortly after Sandy blew through New Jersey, Community Access launched our CAU “Keep the Power” Generator Project, investing $350,000 to install generators at 84 of our facilities. This includes 54 homes with permanent natural gas generators, 16 homes with natural gas generators ready to be connected, 11 homes with gasoline generators in storage and three major sites with large permanent generators that can accommodate 60 to 100 people. As we construct new homes, generators are installed where necessary, as well.

Community Access Unlimited has always been an agency ahead of the curve. We were founded in 1979 with the mission to relocate people with developmental disabilities from institutional living to community living, where they could find fulfilling lives, interact with others in the community, work and pay taxes and achieve their fullest potential. Later we also began helping young people aging out of the child services system to transition into independent living.

Today more than 2,100 New Jersey residents continue living in developmental centers rather than the community, in violation of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1999 Olmstead decision that found that institutional living equates to segregation and diminishes the everyday life activities of individuals. As New Jersey correctly moves forward with plans to close first two and later more of the state’s developmental centers, social service agencies like ours will be responsible for transitioning these former institutional residents into community living and it is essential that we ensure their safety and comfort.

At Community Access Unlimited we take that responsibility very seriously. Our CAU “Keep the Power” Generator Project is an example other agencies should follow. That is the CAU Advantage.

Sid Blanchard

Executive Director

Community Access Unlimited

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