ELIZABETH, NJ - Service providers for people with disabilities continue to raise the bar for remote learning and virtual programs to meet the needs of the people they serve.

Staff at Community Access Unlimited have been working hard since the start of the pandemic to make sure members don’t miss out on enrichment just because they are at home. CAU is an Elizabeth-based, statewide nonprofit that works to integrate people with disabilities and youth at risk into the general community through comprehensive supports.

CAU is currently accepting registrations for virtual Day Habilitation, the Academy of Continuing Education (ACE), and Vocational services. Members can choose from a wide selection of groups such as Life Skills, Fundamentals of Reading, World Cultures, Culinary Arts, and Health and Safety in the Workplace, depending on what services suit their needs.

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“It was important for us to create a virtual learning experience that emulates an in-person day program structured day that provides age-appropriate activities, offers variety and choice, and focuses on small groups and individual interactions,” said Onekia Grier, managing assistant executive director of Day Habilitation & Educational Services. 

Both Day Program and ACE have virtual groups, but with different offerings. ACE is CAU’s answer to post-graduation learning for adults with developmental disabilities. Program choices are designed to appeal to every type of student.

This fall, CAU students participated in a financial literacy workshop series presented in partnership with Valley Bank. The program was specifically designed for members using presentation materials provided by Valley. The four-part series has concluded for ACE students and is currently being offered to students in the Pathways to Academic & Career Exploration to Success program, a college and employment prep service for high school and college-aged youth at risk. The special series is not the only collaborative educational partnership for ACE this year– the program also partnered with Kean University in November for a virtual music workshop for individuals with disabilities.

Students said they were eager to learn more about money to set goals and develop good habits.

Student Alyssa Elenis works part-time at ShopRite and has set a goal to save enough money to buy a new laptop for her online classes.

“I think I spend too much money and I want to lower that,” she said. “They did a great job with the class and were helpful with answering questions.”

Student Jessica Sucuzhanay said she enjoys taking ACE classes to continue learning and retaining her education.

“I want to learn how to save and manage money,” said Sucuzhanay, who is looking for a part-time job. “I want to know how to spend money when I go to the supermarket and how to create a budget to plan for the future.” 

Elenis said that she is reaping the benefits of virtual services with classes in music and theater, computers, art and media, and self-help.

“It helps a lot,” she said of her self-help class. “We practice taking notes, learning about current events, and managing how we’re feeling.” 

The financial literacy series has helped members better understanding how money works, how to make smart spending decisions and what a bank can do to support and help them reach their financial goals, according to Stacy Marshall, assistant executive director of Educational Services.

“It’s empowering to understand money and make knowledgeable decisions about how to spend that money,” Marshall said. “They can feel more independent going out into community and making those choices. We appreciate our partnership with Valley Bank to learn about personal finance.”