Community Access Unlimited (CAU) this week honored a wide variety of community partners at the agency's 2016 Awards Night Celebration, held at Pantagis Renaissance in Scotch Plains. The award recipients help CAU fulfill its mission of enabling people with disabilities and at-risk youth to live independently within the community.
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 skills and life-skills training, education, advocacy and recreation.
Union County Freeholder Chairman Bruce Bergen received the Excellence in Community Living Award. Earlier this year Bergen launched the "One County, One Community" initiative, which focuses on economic development, job creation and other vital services for all residents of the county but especially for those most in need, including seniors and veterans.
"Union County is lucky to have so many community organizations to work with," Bergen said. "Government can't do it alone. For the county have an organization like Community Access to partner with, it makes our job easier and the lives of Union County residents better."
Freeholder Sergio Granados received a Community Service & Partnership Award. Granados has long believed in giving back to the community since starting a youth community service nonprofit at age 17.
"Ever since I started on the Freeholder Board I've wanted to create new services and programs for (people with disabilities)" Granados said. "For the county to be able to partner with an organization like Community Access, which so effectively supports this sector of the community, we've had a lot of success."
Dr. Lyn Schraer-Joiner, coordinator for music education within the Kean University Music Department and an assistant professor, received the Community Integration Award. Schraer-Joiner this winter partnered with CAU to stage a collaborative community concert featuring 30 adults with disabilities, 35 Kean University music students and alumni and a choir from the Roselle School District.
"We never imagined how our concert would impact so many people," Schraer-Joiner said. "We've all been changed for the better. We're looking forward to next year. We're going to include more of the community and more CAU members so we can spread awareness and make more music."
Sam’s Club in Union was honored with the Employment in the Community Award. Sam’s employs five CAU members with disabilities, who store manager Tanya Pierce said are exceptional employees.
"At Sam's Club, we are very community-oriented," Pierce said. "We always want to be a good neighbor. There is room for everyone who wants to work with us. They are welcomed."
De Lacy Davis, executive director of Family Support Organization (FSO) of Union County, received a Community Service & Partnership Award. FSO supports families and children with complex emotional, mental health or behavioral issues and frequently partners with CAU to support its members.
George Lawrence, a case manager in the Western Essex South office of the state Department of Child Protection and Permanency, received the Outstanding Community Advocate Award. Lawrence works with CAU's youth members and is perceived as a mentor rather than a social worker.
The Northern Regional Day Services/Self-Directed Services Department within the state Department of Human Services received the Outstanding Community Advocate Award. The department has been influential in the development of several programs at CAU, including a new state-of-the-art day program for individuals with developmental disabilities.
Jennifer Malicher, a habilitation plan coordinator within the state Department of Human Services, was honored with the Distinguished Case Manager in Social Services Award. Malicher serves as the case manager for several CAU's members with developmental disabilities and coordinates closely with CAU staff.
CAU's Awards Night Celebration also draws representatives of local and state government, this year including Assemblyman Jamel Holley and Elizabeth Mayor Christian Bollwage.
"I'm here to join in the annual celebration of an organization here in Union County that's done such great work throughout the county and the state," Holley said.
"Community Access is extremely important to our city," said Bollwage. "They work with folks who have been challenged, providing housing and employment opportunities for folks who have been at risk most of their lives."
Harold Poltrock of Harold J. Poltrock, Attorneys at Law and president of the CAU board of trustees, said the awards dinner is an opportunity for the agency to recognize and thank its community partners and celebrate its members and staff.
"Our community partners are essential," he said. "Community Access are not just words. It's all about community and our partners help us partner with the greater community."
CAU also recognized six members and four staff members for individual accomplishments and 69 members for continued employment and awarded scholarships from the Ann Baran Scholarship Fund to individuals pursuing higher education in areas of nursing or medial-related studies.
Community Access Unlimited (CAU), celebrating its 37th year in 2016, 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 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 right. CAU serves more than 6,000 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.