ELIZABETH– For the second consecutive year members, staff, family and friends of Community Access Unlimited (CAU) ignored the dark clouds of both rain and a stubborn economy and proved that the desire to help others is greater than both, raising nearly $37,000 at the 2011 Ira Geller Memorial Walk-A-Thon. The support exceeded last year’s total of $30,000 and the 2009 amount of $20,000.
The Walk-A-Thon raises money for the agency’s programs and services and its members. CAU supports people with disabilities and at-risk youth. This year’s event was held Saturday, Sept. 24, at Rahway River Park.
“Even during a time of lingering economic strain and high unemployment we have seen the assistance and encouragement we receive from the community and our business supporters continue to increase,” said Mercedes Witowsky, associate executive director. “We take heart from the continued outpouring of assistance, assistance that makes a real difference in helping our members live more independent and fulfilled lives within the community.”
The more than 30 sponsors of the walk included $1,000 sponsors Dr. Baljit Sappal of Elizabeth and Woodruff Developers of Hillside, as well as a number of banks and other businesses from throughout Union County and beyond.
CAU also enjoyed the support of student athletes from New Brunswick High School, who attend the event each year as part of their community service efforts under the Play It Smart program. Play It Smart is a national program designed to help student-athletes take responsibility for their futures through lessons learned on the playing field, in the classroom and in service to others.
Ten members of the basketball and wrestling teams helped CAU staff hand out goody bags and t-shirts and serve lunch and led warm-up exercises prior to the start of the walk. This was the third year the New Brunswick High students attended the walk.
The trip to the event is a valuable learning experience for the students, according to Rafael Castillo, academic counselor of Play It Smart at New Brunswick High School.
“The idea is to promote citizenship among the student athletes,” Castillo said. “We want them to get out into the community and give back…to expose more students to community service”
Student Milton Pittman was among those supporting the walkers and found it to be a learning experience.
“(I learned) to appreciate life. To never give up, no matter what.”
Since its founding in 1979 CAU members and staff have never given up the agency’s mission of enabling people with disabilities and young people exiting the youth welfare system or experiencing other challenges to live independent, productive and fulfilled lives within the community, according to Witowsky.
Adelaide Daskam has been a CAU member for 32 years after spending most of her childhood and youth living in institutions. She sees the walk-a-thon as one more step in that march toward independent living.
“People with disabilities are trying to network with other people, to show them what it’s like for us to live out in the community,” Daskam said. “We want people to help people with disabilities to get the word out. For instance, I could come and talk about what it’s like for people with disabilities to be out here instead of in an institution. In an institution you don’t get to do things like this.”
Kathy Wiener, owner and principal consultant of Richard Boris Management Developers and a member of the CAU board of trustees, agreed that the annual walk is an opportunity on many levels.
“It’s great exercise. It’s a wonderful party,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity to get together and support the organization both in spirit and by raising money.”
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