ELIZABETH, NJ - Sid Blanchard, a pioneering icon in New Jersey’s human services sector for four decades, was honored April 4 at the annual Awards Dinner of the nonprofit he founded in 1979, Community Access Unlimited (CAU). An audience of more than 400 people with disabilities, staff members and business and government leaders heard a stream of stories of Blanchard’s compassion and intrepidness, foresight and business acumen that delivered a string of inspiring successes during his 40-year career.
Community Access Unlimited 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.
Blanchard founded CAU in 1979 with a $90,000 grant to move individuals from state institutions and integrate them into the community. This mission became the cornerstone of the agency which today boasts 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.
Blanchard was one of the first executive directors of a human services nonprofit in the United States to acquire property to provide housing for agency members. Robert Griffin, an attorney, and member of CAU’s board of trustees recounted meeting Blanchard when the latter was looking for a lawyer with condominium experience. Later, when the attorney was changing firms and Blanchard chose to go with him, Griffin asked him why.
“’Because you care,’ he told me,” Griffin said. “Even back then he knew the importance of shared principles.”
Liz Blanchard spoke of her husband’s courage to blaze trails.
“We are here to pay tribute to the man who is the ultimate yes man,” she said. “Forty years ago, he gave up a good job and security – benefits and a pension – and said yes to an ad in the ‘Star Ledger’ to move people out of institutional living.”
Pastor Carmine Pernini of the Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church of Rahway and a member of the Union County Interfaith Coordinating Council, which Blanchard founded, presented Blanchard with a baseball bat representing his days as a union leader and thanked Blanchard for teaching Pernini about the power of organizing.
“Sid inspired me to think about what it takes to organize, and he reminded me you cannot community organize without community,” Pernini said.
CAU members who helped found CAU’s New American Movement for People with Disabilities (NAM) thanked Blanchard for all he has done for them, their families and the wider community of people with disabilities while Marguerite Modero, CAU’s music director and the mother of a daughter with disabilities, explained what his work has meant for parents.
“When the journey starts with a special needs child, you feel like everyone else is going to Disney World and you’re going to Secaucus,” she joked. “As everyone else is getting their first pass to Epcot, you’re being told to take your child to the dump. But you want your child to have the Disney experience.
“Yet when all seems lost, enters Sid Blanchard and CAU. I can’t tell you what you have done for us. You carefully mapped out a lifestyle for your members, which includes housing and education and self-reliance and inclusion. You give the members the gentle push to pursue their dreams.”
Blanchard, known for his selflessness and lack of ego, said listening to the accolades was difficult but also rewarding.
“Hearing all the people from NAM say what they said really makes my life,” he said. “It’s really about holding each person as a valued human being. We can’t have a community unless we have everyone in the community. By treating each other with value and holding hands, we can build a community we all want to be part of. If we do that, we all can be successful.”
Blanchard is not leaving CAU, but rather returning to his roots of community organizing on behalf of the agency, its members and people with disabilities throughout society.
“I know in life, sweet justice has a place,” he said.
CAU also honored four members at the dinner. Larry Marcus, Mark Straka, and Pearl Elias all received Founding Member of Helping Hands Advocacy awards; Eddie Matthews received the Longest Supported Member award; Tairah Mandes and Barshay Stinson received Leadership in Youth Advocacy awards.
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.