ELIZABETH, NJ - After six months of physical separation during COVID-19 lockdown, Megan and Maurice Stephens could not wait to be together and say their vows.
“COVID-19 wasn’t going to stop our wedding,” Megan said. It was meant to be, according to Maurice.
From the time they met at a Halloween party held by Community Access Unlimited, the two instantly connected and took things slowly to make the relationship a lasting one, Megan said. CAU is a Union County-based, statewide nonprofit that strives to integrate people with disabilities and youth at risk into the general community through comprehensive supports.
Maurice proposed to Megan on her birthday in June of 2019 at one of her favorite places to eat, the Rainforest Cafe.
“I was scared and nervous but I knew Megan would be happy no matter what,” he said.
A few months into planning their nuptials, the couple realized that their plans to have a large wedding wouldn’t be possible due to the pandemic. To make matters worse, they were separated while quarantined at different CAU residential programs.
“We couldn’t see each other and it was very hard,” Megan said. “It did make our wedding day more special.”
Thankfully, their family and support system at CAU stepped up to make their special day possible and find the couple the perfect apartment in Fanwood, where they moved just in time for the wedding. On October 17, the couple were married before their closest family members and friends in a garden at Warinanco Park in Roselle.
“It was important for us to invite CAU members and staff because they really are a second family for both Megan and Maurice- we really wanted to share the day with them” said Marguerite Modero, Megan’s mother. Rolando Zorrilla, managing assistant executive director of youth services at the agency, served as the best man.
Modero teaches music and theater classes at the CAU Academy of Continuing Education and is the founder and director of the CAU Community Players, an inclusive theatre group made up of performers with and without disabilities.
Maurice has brought his talents in painting and visual arts to CAU productions to share in the family’s love of musical theater. He said Megan’s passion for the shows convinced him to join in.
“Maurice is a very creative person and he fits in perfectly with our family,” Modero said. “It meant so much to have everyone at CAU at the wedding, because without the staff at CAU they would not have made this journey into adulthood and found this love.”
Through employment supports at CAU, both Megan and Maurice are working part-time to help finance their independence.
“Maurice is one of a kind- he loves me a lot and he cares for me,” Megan said. “We share a lot of happiness and ups and downs. We have a lot of togetherness and we understand each other...We were very excited to move in together. I want to be on my own and independent.”
Many people discount that people with disabilities want to find love and companionship, according to Modero.
“I think as advocates of people with disabilities we need to say that they deserve love and a relationship and their happily ever after if it’s possible,” she said. “I’m grateful to CAU for having an enlightened perspective on marriage. They treated them as two adults with dignity and understood they were in love.”
Megan agreed that finding love can mean taking chances to connect with others in your community.
“I would definitely tell people with disabilities to not be afraid to get out there and do things,” she said.
Maurice added that they have already started asking other CAU couples when they plan to tie the knot.