It was a message of communication, inclusion and commitment to community for the good of the community – of treating others with caring and holding those who do not accountable.

The Union County Day of Prayer, held Thursday, Sept. 18, at the First United Methodist Church in Westfield, drew hundreds to hear those messages, as delivered by a slate of leaders from houses of worship from throughout Union County and the nonprofit community.

The Day of Prayer, the first of a planned annual celebration, was an interfaith gathering of the faith-based, nonprofit and government communities to unite people from throughout the county regardless of race, religion or disability and to bring greater awareness of the support services available to them, according to Sid Blanchard, executive director of Community Access Unlimited (CAU).

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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.

The event was sponsored by the Union County Interfaith Coordinating Committee Council, an organization comprising 40 interfaith congregations and community-based nonprofits, including CAU, the driving force behind creation of the council. The council was formed to promote inclusion of all people within the community, without regard to race, religion or disability, and to create a clearing house of faith-based, nonprofit and government community services available to the public, according to Blanchard.

"Being part of the community is a full-time job and the steering committee and members of the Interfaith Council are bringing important services to the community," said Blanchard, who sited information about employment opportunities, the entitlements – including support for seniors, children and families with members with special needs – and record expungement programs.

"Our mission at Community Access is for our members to live fulfilling lives within the community," he said. "But in order for there to be a community, there needs to be a cohesive and caring community of people. We hope tonight inspires others to talk to each other and put their caring into action."

The theme of the evening was "The Ethics of Reciprocity – Your Faith, Your Golden Rule." Attendees heard multiple readings from the Bible and Koran and a panel discussion about what the reciprocity of faith, or Golden Rule, means within different faiths.

The panel discussion featured Imam Ali Jaaber of Masjid Darul Islam Mosque in Elizabeth; Sister Mary Carrington, vice president of missions and effectiveness at Trinitas Regional Medical Center and the Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth; Pastor William Ingram of the Shiloh Baptist Church in Elizabeth; and Rev. L.L. DuBrevil of the Faith United Church of Christ in Union. Rev. Erica Crawford of the Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church in Rahway served as the discussion facilitator.

Imam Ali Jaaber quoted from the Koran, saying, "We have made you tribes so you may know one another."

Sister Carrington said the Golden Rule "allows us to accept the process of change" for the better.

Rev. Ingram said, "There is more that unites us than separates us" and quoted from Martin Luther King Jr., who said, "We will either dwell together as brothers and sisters or we will perish."

Rev. DuBrevil said The Golden Rule Transcends all religions and cultures and that those who obey the rule must hold those who don't accountable for the good of the community.

"As people of faith, we're the ones who have to hold their feet to the fire," using education, advocacy, activism, legislation and judicial action, as said.

About CAU

Community Access Unlimited (CAU), celebrating its 35th anniversary, 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.