UNION COUNTY—Valentine’s Day came a little bit late for 22 couples this year as they celebrated their relationships at the annual Community Access Unlimited (CAU) Couples Night dinner held March 6 at Suburban Country Club in Union.
Each year CAU treats members who are in long-term partnerships to an evening of fine dining and dancing to celebrate their achievements and reinforce the agency’s message that people with disabilities are able and entitled to enjoy every aspect of life, including building and maintaining romantic relationships.
“Community Access Unlimited believes it is important for couples to celebrate their accomplishments,” said Mercedes Witowsky, associate executive director at the agency. “Relationships are not always easy, you have to work at them. CAU members who are couples are no different when it comes to the joys and tribulations of relationships. Everyone needs to take time to enjoy each other and remember the qualities that drew you to your partner from the beginning.”
Ed and Mary Kurnos were drawn together on a hot August day in 1995 when they met at Sandy hook while on a CAU day trip. “She got me a beach chair and put a little umbrella by me for the sun,” Ed remembers.
Like most couples, Ed and Mary’s relationship moved gradually as they got to know each other. First they attended a CAU dinner dance then began dating, with Ed eventually buying Mary a friendship ring.
They married in 2002 – there were 85 people at the wedding – and bought their home in 2006. At Couples Night they celebrated their marriage yet again over filet mignon and lobster tail while dancing between courses.
“When I was in my twenties I asked my mom if I’d ever find the right man,” Mary said. “My mom said, ‘You’ll know when you meet the right the right man.’ I sure did.”
However, Mary’s father did not think a daughter with disabilities was responsible enough to get married. “Now we’re married and own our own home,” Mary said. “That says a lot.”
The 44 celebrants at this year’s Couples Night make similar statements every day as they work at and enjoy the pleasures of their relationships, while also helping CAU make a statement about the importance of providing people with disabilities the opportunity to lead normal lives as citizens integrated into the community, according to Witowsky.
That statement earned CAU reference in the analytical book, “The Facts of Life…and More: Sexuality and Intimacy for People with Intellectual Disabilities”, edited by Leslie Walker-Hirsch, M.Ed., FAAMR. According to Walker-Hirsch, making good decisions about sexuality is a critical part of adulthood, but sometimes people with intellectual disabilities don’t get the support or education they need to navigate this complex aspect of life.
Couples Night is an effort by CAU to provide that support, and more, according to Witowsky. “Couples need to date and this evening is a date to remember,” she said.
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