Giving Back

Community Access Unlimited honors community partners at 2018 Awards Dinner

Shantena Fleming (left), lead employment specialist at Community Access Unlimited (CAU), congratulates Amberly Russamano, shopper advocate at Shoprite of Clark, at the agency's 2018 Awards Dinner.
Greg Rybeck (left), director of community integration at CAU, congratulates TD Bank members (left to right) Paige Carlson-Heim, David Olmedo, AnneMarie Lavine and Renee Rattigan.
Roselle Councilwoman Denise Wilkerson (left) is congratulated by (left to right) Assemblywoman Annette Quijano; Sid Blanchard, CAU executive director; and Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage.
Erich Kussman (left) of the Union County Interfaith Coordinating Council, and CAU member Belinda Malave.

ELIZABETH, NJ - Community Access Unlimited (CAU) recently honored a number of key community partners at the agency's 2018 Awards Night Celebration, held April 12 at its headquarters in Elizabeth.

Community Access Unlimited is a statewide Union County-based nonprofit providing support programs and services to adults with disabilities as well as at-risk youth to enable them to live independently in the community, providing support in areas including housing, vocational skills, and life-skills training, education, advocacy, and recreation.

The 2018 award winners were:

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  • ShopRite of Clark – Employer of the Year
  • TD Bank, Financial Literacy Program – Organization Community Services & Partnership Program
  • Roselle Councilwoman Denise Wilkerson – Partnership in Community Living Award for supporting CAU members who lost their home in Roselle to a fire earlier this year.
  • Erich Han William Kussman, Jr., of Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Springfield, a member of the Union County Interfaith Coordinating Council – Community Integration Award
  • Zuleika Almanzar of Disability Services and Advocacy – Outstanding Community Advocate, Developmental Disabilities
  • Frederick Idehen of Coordinated Family Care – Outstanding Community Advocate, Youth Services
  • Mark Obler, a CAU member who opened his home to fellow CAU members who lost theirs to the Roselle fire – Individual Community Service & Partnership Award

"We are here tonight to recognize our community partners, those that not only talk about caring but put it into action supporting others so that we can all be productive members of the community," said Sid Blanchard, CAU executive director. "Without community partners, there would be no community. We all help each other. Without that glue, nothing would bind us together. And the glue is respect for each other, our commonality as well as our differences."

ShopRite of Clark has been a longtime partner with CAU in the agency's member employment program.

"We are an equal opportunity employer and we look to help everybody, regardless of their capabilities," said Amberly Russomano, shopper advocate at the store. "We look for the right people who will fit with the company and CAU has provided us with some great people, some of whom have been with us for 20 years or more."

TD Bank partners with CAU in a number of ways, including its financial literacy program. Representatives of the bank regularly visit the agency to teach financial literacy classes to its members.

"This year, we introduced our new adaptive financial education curriculum," said Eileen Holmes, retail market president at TD Bank. "Using a variety of newly created tools and resources, we were able to extend financial literacy to individuals with diverse abilities. This is important because financial education enables individuals to make better, more informed monetary decisions and get the most out of their income."

Following a fire at an apartment building in Roselle that left 14 CAU members without a place to live and few belongings, Wilkerson led a communitywide effort to raise funds for them and others displaced by the fire, and effort that raised more than $13,000.

"When you're working with an organization like CAU that truly believes in partnering with the community, it's easy for you to do your part," she said.

Kussman is a member of the steering committee of the Union County Interfaith Coordinating Council, which comprises more than 40 interfaith congregations and community-based nonprofits, including founding member CAU. He regularly holds services at CAU for agency members and spearheads an effort to lead houses of worship to embrace people with disabilities within their congregations.

"At the end of the day, we're all human," he said. "There's a commonality we all share and it's important to be human together."

Gary Ruben, a longtime CAU member and president of the agency's member-advocate group, Helping Hands, attended the event and is appreciative of everything CAU's community partners do for his fellow members.

"It means more people are out there caring about each other," he said. "It shows what we can do together." is Elizabeth’s free daily news source. Sign up for our daily eNews and follow us on Facebook at and Twitter @TAPElizabeth. 

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