ELIZABETH – Sid Blanchard, founder and executive director of Community Access Unlimited (CAU), has been named one of six finalist in the NJBIZ Nonprofit Innovation Awards within the Leadership Excellence category.
Selection is based on the accomplishments, contributions and significant impact the nominees have made to their respective organizations.
Blanchard is a nationally recognized leader in social services who has dedicated his career to improving the lives of people with special needs, including those who are disenfranchised, have no voice or are too often dismissed. He possesses a unique combination of passionate social conscience and insightful business acumen that has allowed him to grow CAU from its initial $90,000 budget with three employees to a $30 million operation with 500 employees advancing the needs of people with disabilities and at-risk youth.
“I am a community activist from the 1960s,” Blanchard said. “I believe in equality and justice for everyone, particularly those who are disenfranchised and whose input has not traditionally been valued. People with disabilities fall into this category. I have dedicated my life to improving the social, economic and political plight of adults and youth with special needs.”
Blanchard started CAU in 1979 with a $90,000 grant to move 20 persons with disabilities living in institutions into the community, operating from the trunk of his Volkswagen Beetle. Today CAU provides a continuum of services to more than 3,500 people annually comprising emergency and permanent housing; training in life skills, vocation and employment; crisis intervention; recreation; community support; and advocacy.
Blanchard also has demonstrated exceptional business skills during the three decades he has lead CAU. Recognizing that non-profits face the same challenges as for-profit companies, Blanchard applied both sound and progressive best business practices to the operation of the agency, including: employee recruitment; meeting customer needs and expectations; diversifying product base and customer/ constituent base; and cost containment.
For example, CAU was the first and remains the only human services non-profit in the nation to self-insure for health care, using a Voluntary Employee Benefits Association (VEBA) that has limited increases in health insurance costs to just 3.3 percent in each of the last five years, compared to national increases of 5 percent for all businesses and 11 percent for non-profits in just the last year alone.
At the same time Blanchard also recognized unique business opportunities available to non-profits that would allow CAU to better serve its members and their needs. CAU was one of the first non-profit agencies in the nation to see the federal low-income housing tax credit as an opportunity to acquire property to be used for community housing for its members. Today, in addition to 55,000 square feet of commercial space, CAU owns more than 200 units of housing throughout Union County.
Yet even while excelling at the business side of leading a non-profit, the humanistic calling has always been the foremost voice for Blanchard.
“I see the impact the organization I helped create has had on individual lives,” he said. “I see people coming out of institutions and now living in their own apartment, even owning their own homes, and enjoying all the rights and responsibilities of tenancy and homeownership. I see people attaining job skills and working in real jobs, taking pride in their work and seeing themselves as contributing members of society.
“I see people learning how to speak on their own behalf, developing their own messages and initiating change based on what they think and their ideas. I see their self confidence improve and their needs being better met as a result of their input. It is the dignity that comes from self-determination, the ability to voice your own needs and be heard, that I seek.”
When Blanchard speaks at CAU functions he often is interrupted by a supporting yell or two from an agency member in attendance. He always pauses to let them have their say and then smiles.
There is a reason why members call Blanchard “Papa Sid.” He has fathered Community Access Unlimited and its members for 30 years.
Sid Blanchard and member Mark Straka celebrate Straka’s purchase of his own home, made possible through Community Access Unlimited.
Photos courtesy of Community Access Unlimited
Connect with NJTODAY.NET
Join NJTODAY.NET's free Email List to receive occasional updates delivered right to your email address!