ELIZABETH, NJ - Summer is a time for vacation – packing up the car and heading to the Jersey Shore or the mountains, or hopping on a plane and visiting another part of the country. It is a time to get away and recharge one's batteries.
Yet many people with disabilities are not able to enjoy this basic privilege, often simply because there is no one to arrange the vacation and take them.
Members of Community Access Unlimited enjoy a variety of vacation opportunities, arranged for by the agency and always with the company of staff members.
CAU is a statewide Elizabeth-based 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.
In the last several years CAU members have visited the Bahamas, Las Vegas, Washington, D.C., Williamsburg and Niagara Falls, according to Luis Ayala, community integration coordinator at the agency. This year members have visited Wildwood and San Antonio, home of Morgan's Wonderland, the world's first wheelchair-accessible amusement park for children and adults with special cognitive and physical needs.
"The overnight trips are an opportunity for the members to go away for a week to a setting that is away from home," Ayala said. "The point is for them to enjoy a vacation. We book the trip for them and staff go with them to ensure they have the support they need."
CAU member Myrta Rosa vacations every year, usually pairing her trip with an avocation conference, such as attending the annual convention of the Alliance for Betterment of Citizens with Disabilities. Last year she traveled to Maryland and Virginia, where "I met my cousin I haven't seen in 30 years," she said.
Rosa has been all over the nation and loves traveling.
"You meet new people. Your see different things," she said. "I've been to so many places but I like Anaheim, California best. I love everything about Disneyland."
Dana Ritman has been to Las Vegas and Disneyworld as a CAU member.
"I like the restaurants and the beach in Las Vegas," she said. "I liked the rides and the food and Mickey Mouse and the other cartoon characters in Disneyworld. The staff is very helpful when we travel."
Ritman's next trip will be to Hershey Park in Pennsylvania.
Yet staycations can be just as rewarding as overnight trips to other locations. CAU's mission is to enable its members to live fulfilling lives in the community and recreational activities are an important part of that, according to Ayala. A visit to the agency's recreation calendar at www.caunj.org shows a full agenda each month.
Frank Barile never misses one, proudly announcing, "I've been to every CAU recreation event this year."
This year alone Barile has been to Medieval Times in Lyndhurst; "The Music Man, Jr.," a play put on by the CAU Community Players; a Michael Jackson concert – "The seats were great but the walk up was too far," he said – a Mets game; Bowcraft amusement park in Scotch Plains; a bowling banquet; and several restaurants for lunch or dinner.
"I like that they pick me up at my house and bring me to the event," he said. "Then I like being with other people."
In addition to the enjoyment of travel and recreation, that is a primary purpose of these activities, according to Ayala.
"We provide these events to allow our members to get out in the community and interact with others," he said.
About Community Access Unlimited
Community Access Unlimited (CAU), celebrating its 37th year in 2016, 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 www.caunj.org or by mail at 80 West Grand Street, Elizabeth, NJ 07202.