UNION – It has been said that a soul mate is the one who makes life come to life. For people with disabilities, who sometimes face challenges enjoying life to its fullest potential and therefore treasure each success perhaps more dearly than people without disabilities, finding a soul mate can be their greatest triumph. Yet while people with disabilities sometimes struggle to achieve their rights to respect, independence and self-sufficiency, they usually find falling in love as natural a process as it is for everyone else in the world.
Members of Community Access Unlimited (CAU) recently celebrated that process and their collective romantic successes at the agency’s 2011 Couples Night, held March 11 at Suburban County Club in Union. The evening each year allows CAU members in committed relationships to celebrate their love and dedication to one another. This year 29 couples gathered to raise their glasses to their partner.
While each celebrant is a person with disabilities, their stories of meeting and falling in love are as similar and heartwarming as those found in any relationship.
Christine and Lee Bongiovi were together for just about a year when they decided to get married more than 10 years ago. Mutual fiends saw the connection and brought them together. But it was not love at first sight.
“We were an odd couple at first,” Lee said. “Then we started to get used to each other.”
However, even their wedding day did not go completely smoothly.
“He dropped my ring and it fell in front of my mother,” Christine said. “Everyone was teasing him because they thought he was going to marry my mother.”
Today the Bongiovis enjoy their life together along with their 9-year-old son, Justin.
Unlike the Bongiovis, it was love at first sight for Larry and Kathy Marcus, who were introduced by a fellow CAU member.
“I got down on my knee in the jewelry store,” Larry said. “I said, ‘Will you marry me?’ and she said yes.”
Appropriately, the Marcuses had their engagement party at CAU and their reception at L’Affaire in Mountainside, where the agency celebrates its annual dinners and awards ceremonies.
Elaine Siegel and Edward Matthews have been together “too long” to say, according to Elaine, after being introduced by a mutual friend. They were married in 1993 in front of 175 guests and today live as a happy couple in Elizabeth.
“We take picnics, go bike riding and go fishing,” Mathews said.
Amanda and Wesley Strond were married in 2004 but have known each other “a really long time,” according to Amanda. Like so many couples throughout the world, they met at school. Also as in most healthy relationships, the Stronds enjoy doing things together as well as apart.
“We watch television or take walks,” said Wesley. “Sometimes she goes to her sister’s and I go to help out at church.”
Each year at Couples Night CAU executive director Sid Blanchard appears to glow in delight of the soul mates around him as much as they do each other.
“Kissing is allowed tonight, holding hands is okay,” he said. “I want to toast you and your important other. May the next year be filled with love, good time and each other. Enjoy each other in love.”
(Photos courtesy of Community Access Unlimited)
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