It’s anything but business as usual in most fields in the United States, but agencies providing social services face exceptional challenges to keep vital services alive and strong during coronavirus restrictions. 

At Community Access Unlimited, staff are working tirelessly to not only maintain best practices for safety, but also translate programs and services to be virtual or remote wherever possible. CAU is a statewide nonprofit that strives to integrate people with disabilities and youth at risk into the general community through comprehensive supports.

“Our members’ routines have been interrupted and it has been a challenge for all of us to adapt to the current situation,” said CAU executive director Bernadette Griswold. “However, our staff have been amazing in stepping up to support members, whether that means changing their assignments temporarily or creating creative and thorough plans for remote operations.”

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Direct support staff continue to provide on-site supervision and support 24 hours a day, every day. Support coordinators are working remotely to continue to connect people to services around the Garden State, and they are accepting new members.

“Whatever services we’re finding are usually either virtual or remote services,” explained Alison Goodrich, assistant executive director of support coordination. “We are also looking for community based support providers that will physically go out to help people if they need it.” 

From virtual gardening and yoga to programming classes that teach the user skills to make a video game, Goodrich said her staff have been connecting members to some popular activities on their computers. 

On the CAU Youtube page, members and families can view videos on meditation, coping skills, daily skills such as getting dressed, plus join in a virtual dance party!

The Academy for Continuing Education in Cranford has moved to remote learning, and has extended the opportunity to participate to all residential program members. Virtual classes are offered in math, reading, media, science, self-help, history and art for adults with developmental disabilities.

The CAU community of members and staff are missing their family members, friends, coworkers, the CAU Day Program, their classmates at ACE, and non-essential face-to-face meetings. 

But everyone has the desire for time at home to be as enriching as possible.

“I am cooking more to keep busy and I really like doing it. If I want to learn to cook something new I’ll ask staff to look it up on the computer, something like eggplant parmesan,” said longtime CAU member Terry Schwartz. “I’m hoping and praying that my roommate can go home for Mother’s Day to see her mom, and that she can go to work and I can go to my program.” 

“In-home goals such as housekeeping or meal planning, budgeting and paying bills- these are goals that they can continue to work on that my staff are assisting with,” said Joseph Calabrese, director of community supports. 

Residential program director Vallery Supplice said he has coordinated Zoom conference calls for members with their family members, doctors and psychiatrists. 

“They’ve been doing great,” he said. “We enjoy playing Jenga and Uno every day and we allow everyone to choose what game they want to play. They look forward to the daily CAU challenge.” 

The daily challenge starts the day on a fun note every morning, energizing members and staff to create themed art projects and activities. From recycling and songwriting projects to drawing and creating cards to thank first responders and health care workers, members are flexing creative skills that can be therapeutic in the crisis. The daily winning program receives a credit to order a deluxe to-go meal from a Union County restaurant, supporting local businesses. 

Member Kardy Goe said she is doing as well as she can at home, and is playing games and enjoying trying new foods from local restaurants.

“Everybody gets along,” she said. “Now I am good, and when the virus is over I want to go back to day program.” 

To learn more about CAU, visit www.caunj.org or follow the agency on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Learn more about supporting the agency and become a monthly donor at www.caunj.org/support-us/.

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 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.

CAU is Hiring!

Community Access Unlimited continues to expand and we have a number of full time and part time openings available. Contact our HR department at (908) 354-3040 ext. 4203 to learn more! For a full list of available positions, visit www.caunj.org.

[CAU Daily Challenge Photo 1] 

CAU member Ashley Forges and staff Hind Iddrisu create a recycling project together on Earth Day 

[CAU Daily Challenge Photo 2] 

CAU member Simon Martins whips up pancakes for a cooking challenge