ELIZABETH, NJ - The future leaders of Union County's nonprofit community were celebrated on Thursday at the graduation of the inaugural class of the Union County Non-Profit Leadership Fellows Institute, held at Community Access Unlimited (CAU) in Elizabeth. The institute's Class of 2018 comprised 24 social services professionals from an array of the county's nonprofit organizations.

The Union County Non-Profit Leadership Fellows Institute was launched in 2017 with the goal of developing the next generation of informed and effective executives in the nonprofit sector, according to the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders, which seeded the program with $5,000.

The institute is a first-of-its-kind, public-nonprofit-private partnership between the Union County Non-Profit Consortium, an association of nonprofit executive directors, county freeholders and for-profit companies that support social services efforts in the county. It was spearheaded by Union County Freeholder Bruce Bergen.

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"Government can't do it all," Bergen said. "In Union County, we're very lucky to have many nonprofits offering services to our citizens and we support them as much as we can…The institute is a way of looking toward the future to make sure these nonprofits have the leadership they need in five years, 10 years and 15 years."

Institute participants attended 11 skill-building sessions based on a dynamic, interactive model. Program graduates included CAU's Jasmine Coleman and Tyechia Wade, who has been with the agency 10 and nine years, respectively. Each began as direct care workers and advanced several levels to their current positions of assistant executive director within the agency's residential services department for people with disabilities. Both said they found the institute very educational.

"It's been very beneficial, learning about finances, funding, organizational culture, technology," Coleman said. "Being in the program helped me understand and appreciate what everyone else around me does."

While Coleman hopes to apply what she has learned either at CAU or elsewhere in the nonprofit sector, Wade plans to use her new knowledge and skills at the agency.

"Sid (Blanchard, CAU executive director) has a vision for the agency and you want to be part of it," she said.

Union County Freeholder Chairman Sergio Granados, who congratulated each of the program graduates by presenting them with their certificates of fellowship, agreed with Wade.

"CAU is a pillar in our county community in what nonprofits should do in making sure people have what they need to live a successful life," he said.

Aiming to ensure its ongoing leadership development within the agency, CAU created its own Leadership Institute that allowed 22 additional employees to follow a similar curriculum as those participating in the county program, according to Joanne Oppelt, CAU's assistant executive director of business development.   

"CAU has long enjoyed a very high level of retention that is unusual in the social services sector and a large number of our senior and mid-level managers have been with us for five, 10 or more years," she said. "We greatly value internal development and continuity of leadership that benefits not only our employees but our members, as well."

CAU, a Union County-based, statewide nonprofit that strives to integrate people with disabilities and at-risk youth into the general community, supports its members with housing, vocational and life-skills training, education, advocacy, and recreation.

For more information about CAU and its services, contact them at 908.354.3040, info@caunj.org or by mail at 80 West Grand Street, Elizabeth, NJ 07202.

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