SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ -- Tyler O'Neill and his family are thankful for so much this Thanksgiving, including the support he receives from the nonprofit Community Access Unlimited (CAU).

O'Neill, 25 and a resident of Scotch Plains, is a person on the autism spectrum who attends CAU's Academy of Continuing Education (ACE) twice a week.

"I learn to act in theater class," he said. "I also make jewelry in jewelry class. I learn about character in media class and I like to film my friends. I like that people are supportive of you being you."

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CAU is a statewide, Union County-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. ACE is a program of continuing education for adults with disabilities who want to continue their learning beyond high school or other youth programs.

O'Neill has blossomed during this four years attending ACE, according to his mother, Kim. Since becoming a CAU member he got his license to drive and works part-time at Stop & Shop in Westfield. He performed in three musicals staged by the CAU Community Players, a troupe of actors with and without disabilities, this past summer earning the starring role of Jafar in "Aladdin, Jr." He currently is editing a CAU promotional video in which he also appears.

That development, in turn, has improved Kim O'Neill's life.

"Community Access Unlimited has had a huge impact on me as a parent," she said. "When Tyler graduated from school we were both very anxious about what his adult life would be like. CAU has connected him socially with the community. Through the encouragement of all the wonderful staff and his CAU peers he has gained so much confidence in himself. Now I have confidence that with CAU's help his adult life is going to be awesome."

"I'm so thankful to CAU," Tyler O'Neill said. "My life has changed so much. I've learned to have confidence in myself and do whatever my heart wants."

Kim O'Neill is equally thankful for CAU.

"In the future it will enable Tyler to live independently in their supportive apartment program," she said. "I no longer have anxiety about his adult life."

Community Access Unlimited (CAU), celebrating its 38th year in 2017, supports 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 currently serves more than 6,000 individuals and families, with the number growing each year. For more information about CAU and its services, call 908-354-3040, or visit www.caunj.org or by mail at 80 West Grand Street, Elizabeth, NJ 07202.