Sidney Blanchard, one of NJ’s most influential nonprofit change-makers, returns to his community activist roots.

ELIZABETH, NJ - In the 40 years since Sid Blanchard put down his state social work career to launch Community Access Unlimited (CAU), he has secured his place as a founding father of the movement to achieve civil rights for individuals with developmental disabilities. Now, with a multi-million dollar enterprise that has inspired decades of tangible social progress, Blanchard will retire as CAU’s executive director and return to his grassroots origins.

He hands the keys over to Bernadette Griswold, whose 15-year tenure at CAU has prepared the agency for his transition to associate executive director of community relations. Blanchard’s 70th birthday and Type 2 diabetes diagnosis were the impetus for the shift.

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“I don’t feel like having my fingers and toes cut off,” Blanchard joked. “I would rather hand my position off to someone who will uphold the values and responsibilities I’ve built. The transition has been years in the making.”

Blanchard, whose activism stretches back to the anti-war movement of the 1960s, has stood at the helm of the cause for disability rights since its genesis, affecting change on a state and national level. Armed with a $90,000 grant to remove individuals from state institutions in 1979, his Volkswagen Beetle served as the command post for his mission. From these modest roots, CAU is now one of the largest human services agencies in New Jersey, boasting an operating budget of more than $60 million, $50 million-plus in assets and more than 1,000 employees. Across New Jersey, more than 5,000 individuals and their families benefit from the supports CAU provides.

“I get fired up inside and depend upon my sense of humor to see me through. Action is what counts. Talk is cheap,” Blanchard told the Star-Ledger in 1994 when he was declared Jerseyan of the Week.

That fire has yielded a considerable record of advocacy, innovation, and entrepreneurship within the nonprofit and human services landscapes over the years. Realizing early on the dangers of relying on a sole funding source, Blanchard has fought the byproducts of capitalism with capitalism to ensure the agency’s survival.

He reinforced his operation with Community Access Institute, a multimillion-dollar independent nonprofit that provides funds to create affordable housing, avant-garde programming, and services. The Institute holds more than $7 million in various funds that assist CAU’s members and employees. Blanchard also established Creative Property Management, a real estate holding company that generates income to support CAU.

“I knew we had to carry out the mission unfettered by the bureaucratic tentacles that choke so many objectives,” Blanchard said. “Creative Property Management allows us to provide more than 250 units of housing supports to about 600 people, as well as property management services to numerous condominium associations.”

Blanchard’s efforts have earned him high-level recognition in the form of multiple boards and gubernatorial appointments, including a national American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD) fellowship. In 2010, he received acknowledgment for his work founding the Voluntary Employee Health Benefits Association (VEBA), a multimillion-dollar employer self-insurance program that continues to provide comprehensive enhanced benefits at little or no cost to CAU employees and their families. 

“Sid has always led by example. There is no one who can say something is too hard, because he’s done every job at this agency at some point or another,” said Harold Poltrock, CAU board president. “I don’t know anyone personally or professionally who has had such profound effect on so many people, whether it’s the thousands of CAU’s members or the untallied thousands that have never met him but have benefitted from the socioeconomic changes he’s implemented.”

Today, guided by the same activist, community-oriented principles, CAU supports all who are disenfranchised, including youth within the child welfare and juvenile justice systems, seniors and veterans, people with affordable housing needs, and youth with disabilities. As for Blanchard, he is not so much slowing down as he is investing time in his oldest and strongest passion: hitting the pavement and organizing within the community.

“I’m looking forward to working more closely with our members and their families, getting on the ground in Trenton to advocate for our people,” Blanchard said. “CAU has always been so much more than a social services organization to me — it’s a movement to empower and liberate anyone who has ever been told they can’t.”

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 gives a voice to adults and youth who traditionally have little power in society, assisting its members 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. Currently serving more than 5,000 individuals and families, CAU continues to grow each year. For more information about CAU and its services, visit caunj.org or contact us at 908.354.3040, info@caunj.org or by mail at 80 West Grand Street, Elizabeth, NJ 07202.

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