UNION COUNTY – Community Access Unlimited (CAU) looked to Washington and within its own walls in honoring Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6) and Robert Griffin, an attorney and partner at Griffin, Griffin & Alexander and president of CAU’s board of advisors, at the 30th Annual Gala Dinner Dance, held Oct. 20 at L’ Affaire Fine Catering in Mountainside.
Pallone was honored with the Humanitarian of the Year award, which recognizes a person who has provided ongoing support for and has had continued influence throughout New Jersey on behalf of people with disabilities and at-risk youth. Griffin received the Geller Award, which is presented to a person who has made a significant commitment to CAU and its members and best reflects the universal concept of volunteerism in its truest meaning to serve as an inspiration to others.
As senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and member of the Energy & Environment and Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection subcommittees, Pallone is instrumental in championing the interests of New Jersey and the nation in areas such as expanded health care, energy, the environment, commerce and telecommunications, according to Sid Blanchard, CAU executive director.
Pallone spearheaded the CLASS act, which created a voluntary insurance program to help people – including those with disabilities – finance long-term care services and support. He authored legislation that renewed the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), expanding coverage to an additional 4 million children; played an instrumental role in forwarding health care reform; spearheaded efforts to ensure adequate funding for community health centers; and helped increase Medicaid assistance to cash-strapped states, such as New Jersey. Pallone also was instrumental in securing funding for affordable housing CAU constructed in Elizabeth.
Support from advocates such as Pallone has never been more important to CAU and people with disabilities and at-risk youth throughout the nation, according to Blanchard.
“We are in bad economic times,” Blanchard said. “There are people out there across this country who want to cut services to people with disabilities and young people in need of support to turn around their lives. To fight this way of thinking we have to work together.”
Pallone pledged to continue fighting for the rights of all citizens.
“We’ve made a huge difference with your help,” he said. “We’ve made a difference for people with disabilities but there’s more to do…I want to expand services, not cut them back. I believe in an activist government, not one that says, ‘You’re on your own.’”
Griffin has served as president of the CAU board of advisors since 2007. He began his love affair with CAU in 1989 when the agency needed legal assistance with a condominium association and quickly became a member of the board.
“I have found over time that when people do things that turn out to be important, they rarely do it alone,” Griffin said. “Everyone on our board believes what they’re doing is the most important thing in their lives. That atmosphere of commitment is infectious.”
Griffin believes the true award-winners at CAU are the members.
“Being a foster child living in seven homes and turning around and making something of yourself is much more than I have ever done,” he said. “People with disabilities achieve much greater things. Community Access members have shown much more courage and hard work than I ever could.
“We are all part of a great movement in our society of treating everyone with dignity and respect regardless of ability. Whether you are receiving supports, delivering services or are part of the community supporting us, you are all making a difference in people’s lives.”
Playing a vital role in that collective effort are the community partners that support Community Access Unlimited, particularly those in the business community. TD Bank was recognized at the Gala as one of those partners.
The TD Bank Foundation recently provided CAU with a $15,000 grant for the agency’s Home Share program, which matches people who have a home but who are experiencing financial hardship and difficult housing costs with people who are currently or soon-to-be homeless.
“We support Community Access Unlimited because not only can you see the good that’s being done on the outside, you also can see on the inside that the money is being well spent,” said Martin Melilli, regional vice president Union East-Essex lending at TD Bank.
“The government is cutting back. It’s up to the private sector to bolster the correct causes and when you find the right fit such as Community Access it’s an easy choice. The need is greater now more than ever. It’s up to us as a community to step up and support needed causes.”
CAU also honored a number of members and partners for advocacy and ongoing support of CAU, its members and programs, including members Gregory Felzenberg and Kenneth Archie, who received Colleen Fraser Awards. Felzenberg worked to support the successful movement to remove the term retardation from New Jersey law and Archie has worked hard to advocate for at-risk youth, ensuring they receive all incentives to which they are entitled.
Rep. Frank Pallone accepts the Humanitarian of the Year award from CAU supporter Ethan Ellis at the Community Access Unlimited 30th Annual Gala Dinner Dance.
Sid Blanchard (right), executive director of Community Access Unlimited, accepts a check for a $15,000 grant from the TD Foundation from Rosa Perez, TD Bank branch manager in Springfield, and Martin Melilli, regional vice president Union East-Essex lending.
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