ELIZABETH, NJ - Youth will be served but sometimes it needs a little help. Nonprofit Community Access Unlimited this week celebrated more than a dozen at-risk youth who achieved their goals in the past year as members of the agency’s Transitional Opportunities Program (TOP), in areas such as employment, education, and financial management.
CAU is a Union County-based, statewide nonprofit that strives to integrate people with disabilities and at-risk youth into the general community through comprehensive supports. TOP provides CAU’s youth members aged 13-21 with residential support and transitional living and life skills training to prepare them for independent living as adults. Members work closely with program counselors to develop plans and goals toward which they work during the year.
Youth Achievement Night is an evening to celebrate those TOP members who have achieved their goals and/or excelled at certain life skills, as well as all program members for their hard work during the year, according to Marshall Christie, CAU’s assistant executive director of youth services.
“This is an evening celebrating achievement,” he said. “We look at educational goals, such as graduating from high school, getting into college or completing a first year of college. We look at employment goals – members who have been employed throughout the year. We also look at personal goals, such as graduating from supervised living to independent apartment living. Our goal is to encourage our youth members so they can continue striving toward self-sufficiency.”
Alejandro Amaya, 19, received the Creativity Award this year – he excels at drawing, among other interests. Amaya has been a member of CAU for two years, coming to the agency’s TOP program from another program he found too restrictive.
“I came here for a better opportunity and more freedom,” he said. “Here I get to learn how to prepare myself for life, like learning different skills every day and being out in the community helping people.”
Amaya is working toward attaining his GED and purchasing a car. He also is interning at the Boxwood Learning Center in Roselle learning how to computer edit fashion photos to develop his technical skills for a career.
Jacob Gawlikowski, 18, has been a member of CAU for 11 months and feels he has made great progress in that time. Prior to joining CAU he was living in a group home because he struggled at home with his mother.
“I like that CAU has given me the opportunity to get away from my previous problems,” he said. “They allow me to learn to be more independent and I feel like the struggles I had in the past are gone. I feel very relieved at CAU.”
Gawlikowski lives in a semi-independent housing unit within TOP and will be enrolling at Union County College for the fall semester. He hopes that will lead either to a four-year college or a career in information technology.
“Everyone has an end goal of growing up and being a responsible adult living on your own and I’m striving for that,” he said.
To learn more about CAU, visit www.caunj.org or follow CAU on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
About Community Access Unlimited
Community Access Unlimited (CAU), celebrating its 40th year in 2019, 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 power 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 rights. CAU currently serves more than 5,000 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.