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Community Access Unlimited honors community partners at 2017 Awards Celebration

Ryan Cohen of GrandStand Sports accepts the Community Services and Partnership Award from Alyssa Mistretta, fundraising coordinator at Community Access Unlimited.
Reverend Michael Saporito, pastor at St. Helen’s, accepts the Excellence in the Community Award from Myrta Rosa, board member of Community Access Unlimited, and Sid Blanchard, CAU executive director.

Community Access Unlimited (CAU) honored seven community partners last week at its 2017 Awards Night Celebration, held at its Elizabeth headquarters. The honorees represented the wide variety of professionals and organizations the agency partners with to fulfill its mission of enabling people with disabilities and at-risk youth to live independently within the community.

Community Access Unlimited (CAU) is a statewide nonprofit providing support programs and services to adults with disabilities as well as youth served under the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to enable them to live independently in the community, providing supports in areas including housing, vocational skills and life-skills training, education, advocacy and recreation.

Ryan Cohen, vice president of Grand Stand Sports Memorabilia, was honored with the Community Services and Partnership Award for an individual. Grand Stand Sports partners with CAU to sell memorabilia items at the agency's signature events to raise funds for its programs and services. The company has assisted nearly 1,000 nonprofits in fundraising efforts.

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"CAU is amazing," he said. "They help the people who need it the most and I admire them for that. They don't give up on anybody."

The Parish Community of St. Helen's in Westfield was honored with the Excellence in the Community Award. St. Helen's has been very active in the Union County Interfaith Coordinating Council (UCICC), an interfaith council that promotes inclusion of all people within the community, without regard to race, religion or disability, and promotes nonprofit and government community services to member congregations. St. Helen's is also the parish of several CAU members.

"As a community we value service very much," said Rev. Michael Saporito, pastor at St. Helen's. "When Sid Blanchard (CAU executive director) came to us and talked about what CAU does, it seemed like a perfect partnership. For us as Catholic Christians, we take the example of Christ himself, who reached out to those living on the margins to show they have value and belong like everyone else. When we say we welcome all people, we mean it."

The Institute of Music for Children was honored with the Community Service and Partnership Award for an organization. Each year the institute teaches children from age 3 and older and adults music and performing arts, including several CAU members.

"The arts are important for all people but especially people with disabilities so they can learn to express themselves and feel comfortable that their voice matters," said Alysia Souder, the institute's executive director. "Also, it's really important for children without disabilities to interact with children with disabilities because it opens their minds to thinking they're all the same."

Also honored were:

  • Whitsons Culinary Group with the Employment in the Community Award. The company employs three CAU members, who work for Whitsons in Irvington High School as food service workers, as well as other people with disabilities.
  • Arthur “Skip” Winter with the Community Integration Award. A member of the First Presbyterian Church of Cranford, Winter is a member of the steering committee of the UCICC.
  • Shakirah Peterson with the Outstanding Community Advocate Award for someone working with people with disabilities. Peterson works with CAU members with disabilities.
  • Alicia Frye with the Outstanding Community Advocate Award for someone working with at-risk youth. Frye works with CAU youth members.

"These award recipients help CAU fulfill our mission of enabling people with disabilities and at-risk youth to live independently within the community," said Sid Blanchard, CAU executive director. "Their partnerships with us are invaluable."

CAU's awards celebration each year draws a number of county officeholders and dignitaries, including Union County Sheriff Joe Cryan.

“What brought me here tonight is what brings me every year, the incredible work all of the committed staff at CAU do to improve the lives of those more challenged in this world," Cryan said. "Their dedication, hard work and commitment to better lives is why I want to support the awards celebration and anything to do with CAU. “

CAU also recognized six members for significant accomplishments during the year and three staff members for their dedication and excellence. In addition, CAU honored 72 members with disabilities who have been employed between one and 32 years.

The agency also awarded three Union County high school students with scholarships from the Ann Baron Scholarship Fund, named for former Union County manager Ann Baron.

About Community Access Unlimited

Community Access Unlimited (CAU), celebrating its 38th year in 2017, 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 right. 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 or by mail at 80 West Grand Street, Elizabeth, NJ 07202.

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