ELIZABETH, NJ - In this season of high school proms, one stood out this past Friday. The prom goers were dressed to the nines, the lights were low and the music loud and the dance floor beckoned. Yet these prom goers were not teenagers but rather adults with developmental disabilities.
Dozens of members of Community Access Unlimited attended this annual special prom held at the agency’s headquarters. 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.
“People with disabilities often do not have the opportunity to go to a prom when they are younger because they either attend an alternative school that does not hold the event or they are not invited to their traditional school prom,” said Rolando Zorilla, CAU’s managing assistant executive director. “So a number of years ago our member self-advocacy group decided to hold their own prom and have it each year to ensure that every member who missed prom when they were younger would have the chance to celebrate their own evening again and again.”
This year’s prom was CAU member Steven Agolia’s fourth and he said he looks forward to the evening every year.
“I wanted to come tonight to mingle and see some old friends,” he said. “Socialization is important, being with people who care about you and meeting new people.”
Randy Mercado and Mary Jane French have been dating for years and were one of the many couples who took to the dance floor.
“We’re a couple,” Mercado said when asked why they came to the event. “I like the food and I like to dance.”
French looked stunning in her lilac dress with sequins.
“I’m enjoying being dressed up and I’m looking forward to dancing,” she said. “It’s also a great opportunity to see old friends.”
CAU’s prom is hosted by its member self-advocacy program, Helping Hands.
“I think it’s great we do this for the members,” said Juana Quinn, an officer of Helping Hands who never had a prom when she was in high school. “That’s the sad thing about being disabled. Most of the members never had a chance to go to prom because people think it’s not important to us. But it is.”
To learn more about CAU, visit www.caunj.org or follow CAU on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
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.