ELIZABETH/ROSELLE, NJ - Luis Ortiz used to walk to work every day from his apartment in Elizabeth to his job in Roselle as a mechanic at the garage of nonprofit Community Access Unlimited (CAU) because he did not have a car. He also was not able to take his daughters to appointments or on family outings. That changed when Ortiz was given a car donated to CAU through its Vehicle Donation Program.

"It gave me more independence," said Ortiz. "I used to walk to work every day, rain, snow or shine. Now having a car is more reliable. I'm able to drive my daughters' places. It's given them extra drive, knowing that the car is part of the family. They were very excited."

CAU is a statewide Union County-based nonprofit providing support programs and services to adults with disabilities as well as at-risk youth to enable them to live independently in the community, providing support in areas including housing, vocational skills, and life-skills training, education, advocacy, and recreation.

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Through the agency's Vehicle Donation Program, people are able to donate their vehicle and receive the benefits of a charitable donation.

"More importantly, unlike other car donation programs, CAU does not sell donated cars or scrap them, which results in the donation being much less impactful," said Joanne Oppelt, assistant executive director of business development at the agency. By donating a vehicle to CAU, 100 percent of your donation will be utilized by one of our members."

Ortiz was told he was receiving a car by his supervisor in the agency's garage.

"'You're getting a new car,' he told me," Ortiz said. "I said, 'You're joking. Then he handed me the keys."

Ortiz is well positioned to take care of his car and looks at the donation as a way to continue improving himself, both as a father and in his career. He said he owes much to CAU, of which he became a member at 16 after being homeless. Last year he was honored as Employee of the Year at the agency's Awards Night ceremony.

"They gave me a second opportunity in life," he said. "They taught me members have a voice."

Anyone interested in learning more about CAU's Vehicle Donation Program or wishing to donate can visit http://www.caunj.org/?page_id=334 or email info@caunj.org.

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