A short time ago Maurice Stephens got down on one knee and proposed to Megan Modero.
“I was very nervous,” Stephens said. “I had my eyes closed.”
It was Modero’s birthday and the couple had been joined by her family at the Rainforest Café in Edison to celebrate – or so she thought.
“I said to him, ‘What are you doing,’” Modero said. “My family was shocked. My mom said, ‘Well, do you accept?’ Of course I said yes.”
What makes this story even sweeter is that Stephens and Modero are persons with disabilities. Both are members of Community Access Unlimited (CAU), a Union County-based, statewide nonprofit that strives to integrate people with disabilities and at-risk youth into the general community through comprehensive supports. They met at CAU’s Day Program in Cranford.
The couple was made for each other. They love to attend Broadway plays, both perform in CAU’s annual musical production and both love art. While this year’s Valentine’s Day celebration will have to be a bit simple – they are saving for a fall wedding and a cruise honeymoon – it will be a special one for the couple.
“It’s hard to find Megan without finding me,” Stephens said.
For John Barker, Marion Wade turned out to be the perfect girl next door. The couple met as neighbors in a CAU residential program in Hillside and it was not long before they found love.
“I just asked him if he had a girlfriend or not and he said no, so I said, ‘Would you like to go out with me?’ and he said yes,” Wade said. “He’s crazy about me and I’m crazy about him.”
The couple was married in 2015 and they plan to celebrate Valentine’s Day at a party hosted by CAU.
“We celebrate here every year,” Wade said.
Mark Bloom and Marcella Truppa have been a couple for 21 years, having met at a CAU residence in Cranford.
“I was going out with another guy and he was going out with another girl,” Truppa said.
“But she wanted to go out with me and I wanted to go out with her,” Bloom added. “And we’ve been together 21 years.”
Their first date was on New Year’s Eve and they have seen the ball drop 21 times as a couple. They plan to celebrate Valentine’s Day this year with dinner out and an exchange of gifts.
“I love that he loves me and respects me and doesn’t argue with me,” Truppa said, smiling as Bloom nodded in agreement.
“I love her,” he said. “She’s a good person.”
Romantic relationships are very healthy for people with disabilities, according to Jeremy Lefever, a behaviorist at CAU.
“People with disabilities are just like any other group,” he said. “They want respect, fair treatment, acceptance and, most of all, love. The general public has misplaced perceptions about love and relationships and how they impact the disability community. Adults with disabilities are able to and want to be in mutually romantic relationships and some eventually want to get married and have children. It is important that we afford them every opportunity to find love and romance.”
That is why CAU provides relationship and sexuality training to its staff and is starting a relationships group for its members, according to Tracy LeBaron, CAU’s managing director of behavioral services. In addition, the agency works with members individually as needed to encourage healthy relationships and educate them about what a healthy relationship looks like, she added.
To learn more about CAU, visit www.caunj.org or follow the agency on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
About Community Access Unlimited
Community Access Unlimited (CAU), celebrating more than 40 years in 2020, 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.