ELIZABETH, NJ – Spring is definitely prom season, but as high school seniors get ready for their night to remember, another prom was taking place at the Peterstown Community Center, June 10.
Community Access Unlimited members put on their finest and got ready to party at the 11th Annual CAU Community Prom. “A lot of people didn’t go to their proms at school because the teachers push them to the side,” said Gary Rubin, president of Helping Hands Self-Advocacy Group , the prom’s organizer, and a member of CAU. “They were labeled out because they had a disability. So I said to my friends, ‘We will do something here so you will feel like you have something in your life.’”
That something included dinner, dancing, and plenty of prom pictures, posed against a backdrop. This popular event draws about 100 guests each year, including members of other community groups. “It’s open to the community, so people who have never been to a prom can come,” said Rubin.
The prom is an opportunity to meet new people, get re-acquainted with old friends, and a special evening.
“This event is more meaningful because they come together as a group,” said Rolando Zorrilla, assistant executive director of developmental disabilities services at CAU. “Everyone is welcome.”
Helping Hands, which is made up of CAU members, chose the menu, the location, and the DJ, who is also a CAU member. The group was established in 1984 and seeks to make life better for the individuals they serve, according to Rubin. In 2003, CAU members created their own company, Jump Start Self-Advocacy, LLC, which runs workshops such as How to Get Involved in Your Community and Labels are for Soup Cans. Rubin and group members have also traveled to Washington to advocate for their group.
Community Access Unlimited supports people with special needs in achieving real lives in the community. It provides support and gives a voice to adults and youth who traditionally have little support and no voice in society and 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 and serves more than 5,000 individuals each year.