In celebration of a community effort that enables people with disabilities and at-risk youth to lead fulfilling and independent lives within the community, members of Community Access Unlimited and their family, agency staff, business supporters and representatives of government gathered for CAU's 2014 Gala Dinner Dance this week at L'Affaire in Mountainside, NJ.
CAU provides support programs and services to people with disabilities and 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.
"Our mission is to enable our members to live fulfilling lives within the community, to work and pay taxes, to live independently in apartments and their own homes, to be consumers and engaged citizens and to recreate and love," said Sid Blanchard, CAU executive director. "We could not fulfill that mission without the commitment of our members and staff as well as the support of the greater community, including business and government leaders. Community is the key word in our name and we're here tonight to celebrate those in the community who help us achieve our goals."
CAU honored three award winners at the dinner: Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick, Mayor Jamel Holley of the Borough of Roselle and CAU board member Daniel McCarthy.
Bramnick was honored with the Public Leadership Award. Years ago as a member of the Plainfield City Council Bramnick was instrumental in enabling CAU to create one of its first residential properties for members in that city and has supported the agency ever since. He also often volunteers his services as a comedic auctioneer on behalf of nonprofit organizations. Bramnick is a partner in the law firm of Bramnick, Rodriguez, Mitterhoff, Grabas & Woodruff, based in Scotch Plains.
"Government should be about people and should be about love of people, (including) shared experiences" he said. "That's what (CAU) does – bring people together and boost them up and let them have shared experiences. When you bring people together, that's what success is."
Holley was honored with the Humanitarian of the Year Award. He is regarded as one of New Jersey's most engaged young activist. He also serves as chairman and chief executive officer of the Jamel C. Holley Civic Association, a 501c3 nonprofit organization providing resources and programs to residents of the greater Roselle community. Holley has been especially engaged with CAU and its members, attending a block party hosted by CAU Roselle residents and inviting them to Thanksgiving Dinner at the Borough Hall.
"I'm very humbled to be here tonight," he said. "They say a child born to an unwed teenage mother is unlikely to even graduate high school let alone receive a humanitarian award. It's a testament to the people I work with, whom I represent, my family and my supporters who allow me to achieve what I can achieve.
"I'm involved with CAU as it relates to the expansion of their programs, services and housing. They are doing amazing work and we're happy they chose Roselle to be part of that."
McCarthy was honored with the Ira Geller Award, which is presented to someone with a significant commitment to CAU, including its members, and best reflects the concept of volunteerism. McCarthy, a partner in the law firm Rogut McCarthy, LLC, has been a long-time supporter of CAU and a driving force behind the agency's annual golf outing that raises funds for CAU programs and services. He also played a significant role in raising funds to purchase a generator for the Union County Youth Shelter, which is operated by CAU, following Hurricane Sandy.
McCarthy was drawn to CAU after meeting its leadership team and "seeing the unbelievable work they do for the community that needs that support," he said. "The greatest strength of Community Access is the sense of community and making sure everyone knows we're all part of the same community and we have an obligation to take care of all our brothers and sisters in the world."
Audrey Vasey, president of the CAU board of trustees, said the gala is a way to recognize the community leaders who do great things for the agency and people with disabilities in general.
"It's about reaching out," she said. "It's a big community and we want to be inclusive and the more we reach out the greater the momentum. People like to be part of something and this is one hell of a cool thing to be part of."
Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage believes the community's relationship with CAU is beneficial both ways.
"Community Access has been such an important part of our city," he said. "Many of you here tonight are taking advantage of fair housing, fair employment and fair living opportunities because of Community Access and CAU has had a great hand in providing housing throughout our city, county and state."
Union County Freeholders Mohamed Jalloh, the vice chairman, and Sergio Granados attended the dinner and presented the award winners with proclamations honoring their achievements.
CAU also presented two members with the Colleen L. Frasier Advocate of the Year award, each receiving $500 scholarships. Myrta Rosa was recognized for advocating for people with disabilities and Jasmine Houseman was recognized for advocating for at-risk youth.