Community Access Unlimited Celebrates Accomplishments Of At-Risk Youth And People With Disabilities

ELIZABETH – Youth was served and personal accomplishments applauded at two recent annual events celebrating the success of the members of Community Access Unlimited during the past year. Youth Achievement Night recognizes the agency’s youth members who demonstrate success and achieve personal goals while Performance Recognition Night celebrates the performance of members with disabilities as they work toward living more independently.

CAU provides support and services to people with disabilities and at-risk youth, including housing, life skills, employment, money management, socialization and civic activities. CAU also supports opportunities for advocacy through training in assertiveness, decision-making and civil rights.


At the 2011 Youth Achievement Night members were recognized for a variety of accomplishments in areas including basic life skills such as budgeting and financial responsibility, employment, social skills and advocacy, as well as those that reflect personal development and potential, such as creativity and initiative, excellence in personal standards, new starts and perseverance. CAU’s 2011 high school graduates also were honored.

“Youth Achievement Night is an opportunity to recognize the progress our young members have made from the very challenging conditions from which they come to CAU, such as multiple foster care homes,” Blanchard said. “We provide them with opportunities to improve their lives through a stable environment, guidance and training but only opportunities. They do the work.

“We hold them accountable for their actions, both inside and outside the program because they must apply what they learn to all of daily lives to truly create better futures for themselves. We expect them to commit to goals and work hard to achieve them. Youth Achievement Night recognizes those efforts and their success.”

John Maldonado was recognized with the Perseverance Award. With CAU for eight years, Maldonado represents both the opportunities the agency offers as well as the level of personal responsibility CAU places on members.

Having learned how to better manage his money, shop more economically and cook for himself, Maldonado believed he was ready to leave CAU’s Transitional Opportunities Program. Now by his own admission he was not. After once again struggling he returned to the program.

“CAU has been there for me when I needed them the most,” Maldonado said. “They took me back when I had nowhere to go. I’ve grown and matured.

“They made sure I learned from my mistakes and didn’t just punish me. They give you enough rope but don’t let go. If they can’t bring you back in it’s your own fault.”

Maldonado’s perseverance was tested again this spring when his car was totaled in an accident. A resident of Elizabeth with a full-time job at a restaurant in South Orange, he stayed committed and found alternative transportation to allow him to remain employed.

CAU’s Performance Recognition Night focuses on the accomplishments of its members with disabilities. Because people with disabilities often face daily challenges to their ability to live, work and socialize independently – goals at the very heart of the CAU mission – the agency celebrates members who have overcome such challenges and reached their personal goals in the last year, according to Blanchard.

“Your actions have shown us what can be achieved in a year,” he told the audience of CAU members.

For example, Sunnah Bilal-Shakir, a 21-year-old member with disabilities, identified graduating high school as one of her goals for the year, a goal she accomplished in time to be recognized at the dinner.

Maureen Marziale was another 2011 Performance Recognition Night winner. Marziale is a member of CAU’s Supported Living Apartment Program, which provides two to 10 hours of support per week to adults with disabilities who are capable of semi-independent living in the community, depending on individual need. She receives three hours of support twice weekly from a regular counselor.

Marziale is a recent cancer-survivor who underwent surgery last November. Now she never misses a doctor’s appointment, takes wellness fitness classes and does cardiovascular exercising, and eats healthy, such as whole grain breads and egg substitutes. With CAU assistance she carefully budgets her money, dedicating her social security income to bills and rent and using money she receives at holidays for enjoyment. She has been living independently for 11 years.

“This was the first award I ever got in my life,” she said. “I was pretty happy.”

While applauding the accomplishment of those recognized at the dinner, Blanchard also challenged the remainder of the audience.

“Tonight members in the audience need to celebrate all that has been accomplished and think about what they can do to be up here with the rest of the award recipients next year,” he said.

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