Local At-Risk Youths Selected To Teach Others About “Living In The System”

ELIZABETH – Two members of Community Access Unlimited (CAU) recently spoke at the New Jersey Alliance for Children, Youth and Families annual convention held at Rutgers University May 20, giving a presentation titled, “Living in the System.”

Famitta Durham and Marion Simmons spoke about growing up in the child welfare system – being taken away from family, repeatedly developing new relationships and the impact on personal perception – about how youth living in the system should not allow that to define them as people, and about setting and accomplishing goals.


Durham and Simmons are an officer and former-officer/consultant, respectively, of CAU’s Member Action Committee (MAC), which advocates for the rights of members within the agency and the community, and for other at-risk youths, as well. They are members of CAU’s Transitional Opportunities Program (TOP), living within the agency’s independent supported housing programs after spending varying years in foster care.

MAC officers have been chosen to make the “Living in the System” presentation in the past, including at the National Independent Living Association (NILA) 2009 Annual Conference. Audiences comprise both youth in the child welfare system and human services professionals.

“There’s always hope,” Simmons said is the message she and others giving the presentation send to their audiences. “Nothing’s going to be easy. There’s always going to be ups and down but still keep going.

“Community Access was my turning point. While I was here as well as on the Youth Advisory Board, that was my opportunity to speak up for myself.”

Simmons now is a full-time student at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania and works summers at the Family Support Organization in Plainfield as an assistant outreach coordinator while living in a TOP apartment.

Also at the conference Durham received the 2011 Youth Leadership of the Year award from the New Jersey Alliance while CAU staff member Maureen Malangone was named Child Care Worker of the Year and Richard Ciccerone, a case manager for the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services who works closely with CAU members, was named Case Manager of the Year after being nominated by CAU.

Durham has been a member of CAU since 2006, progressing from semi-independent living to residing in her own apartment within the agency’s Supported Housing Program. She is a full-time student at St. Peter’s College working toward a bachelor of arts degree in sociology. She also holds two part-time jobs to pay for her rent, tuition and bills.

Durham is highly respected by both members and staff at CAU for her leadership qualities and commitment to advocacy for both herself and other members and at-risk youth everywhere, according to Howard Wingard, coordinator of supported housing at the agency. She is an officer of both CAU’s Youth Advisory Board and Member Action Committee and has been a featured speaker at three NILA national conferences.

Malangone has been with CAU since 2009 after 25 years as a Union County youth probation officer. After beginning at the agency as a support counselor working with male youths she transitioned into the agency’s Transitional Services Program and now works with female youths.

She is highly regarded for her commitment to the members with whom she works, according to Wingard, in fact returning to work after just one day following the death of her mother because she had committed to taking several girls to pick up their prom dresses. Malangone also is known for her creativity in securing inexpensive ways for members to recreate, such as discounted or free tickets for outings such as Broadway shows and sporting events, and getting members to become avid volunteers at a local soup kitchen, Wingard added.

Ciccerone was nominated for the Case Manager of the Year award by CAU due to his commitment to the agency’s members under his care, according to Wingard. He is highly attentive to their needs and maintains a frequent presence at the agency, taking part in focus and planning meetings.

“These three award winners represent the partnership that makes Community Access Unlimited so effective,” Wingard said. “When our members are active and positive they are able to take fullest advantage of the opportunities that our committed staff members and programs offer them. And CAU would not be able to help as many youth as we do without the support of our partners in other sectors of the human services arena.”

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