Cicero Reed received an early Christmas gift this year – a car. The 21-year-old member of Community Access Unlimited (CAU) faced a tough road throughout most of his youth but now, thanks to the agency's Car Donation Program, he is finding life to be a smoother ride.

Reed has been a member of CAU's Transitional Opportunities Program, which provides housing and life-skills training to at-risk youth, for two years. He came to CAU after bouncing around various programs within the state's youth services system.

Today Reed lives on his own in an apartment, works at a service station and plans to enroll at Union County College next fall before entering trade school to become an electrician. Yet his life turnaround was incomplete because he could not afford a car and relied entirely on mass transit to get around.

Sign Up for E-News

CAU's Car Donation Program changed that. CAU is a statewide Elizabeth-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, in areas including housing, vocational and life-skills training, education, advocacy and recreation.

The agency's Car Donation Program allows people to donate vehicles in good cosmetic and mechanical condition to the agency, claiming 100 percent of the vehicle's fair market value on their taxes. CAU then cleans and tunes up the vehicle in its garage before giving it to one of its youths or members with disabilities. CAU pays for the insurance and maintenance costs for six months.

"The difference between this program and other car donation programs is that we actually take possession of the car and turn it over to one of our members," said Cara Pavia, fundraising and marketing coordinator at CAU. "Most nonprofits sell the vehicle to an intermediary and only receive a portion of its value as a financial contribution. Those who donate their car to CAU know their donation is having a full impact and changing a life."

The CAU members who receive the donated cars have to earn it, Pavia added. They complete all the steps to obtain a driver's license and make progress toward the life goals they set for themselves with the help of CAU staff.

"I worked for it," Reed said. "I showed my maturity and they believed I deserved it. Now I have freedom to get wherever I need to go. I was excited when I got it."

Pastor Howard Bryant of Townley Presbyterian Church in Union and the Union Count Interfaith Coordinating Council recently donated his wife's car to the program and said they enjoyed being able to make a difference.

"After hearing how the cars are used, we thought rather than trading it in and getting the blue book value we would donate it to CAU," he said. "We're both impressed with the philosophy of CAU, working with people with disabilities and at-risk youth to help them live independently in the community. That fits with our faith of helping others."

"This program enables young people and people with disabilities who we support who do not have the financial resources to buy a car to receive one and attain greater independence in their lives," Pavia said. "It also allows the public to play a role in that. It's a win-win."

Anyone interested in making a donation to the program should contact Pavia at 908-354-3040, ext. 376, or visit www.caunj.org and click on the Donate Now option.

About CAU

Community Access Unlimited (CAU), celebrating its 36th year of success in 2015, supports people with special needs in achieving real lives in the community.  CAU provides support and gives a 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 also supports opportunities for advocacy through training in assertiveness, decision-making and civil rights.  CAU serves more than 5,000 individuals 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.