ELIZABETH – Community Access Unlimited applauded the continuing efforts of two high-ranking state administrators who each day focus on improving life opportunities for people with disabilities and at-risk youth at the agency’s 31st Annual Gala, held October 26 at L’Affaire in Mountainside.
CAU’s Helping Hands Self-Advocacy Group also was recognized for its ongoing commitment to focusing on quality-of-life issues and its lobbying efforts on behalf of those with disabilities.
The efforts of these honorees and others with like passion collectively further the interests of people with disabilities, according to Sid Blanchard, CAU executive director.
“We must continue to build a community that includes all people,” he said.
“CAU has such a good story to tell and the people we support tell that story,” added Mercedes Witowsky, associate executive director. “(Tonight) you can see what we do.”
Dr. Alison Lozano was recipient of the Humanitarian of the Year Award, which lauds a person who has provided ongoing support and has had continued influence throughout New Jersey on behalf of people with disabilities and at-risk youth.
Lozano is the executive director for the New Jersey Council on Developmental Disabilities, a lead change agent in New Jersey responsible for defining a vision of the lives of people with developmental disabilities. The council provides a forum and resources for making this vision a reality through its membership and activities and projects.
The council focuses on quality assurance, including self-determination, leadership training and safety; employment, including career development and lifelong learning; health; community support; and affordable and accessible housing – similar to the focus of CAU.
Dr. Dawn Apgar received the Public Leadership Award, which is awarded to a person or organization for outstanding support of and advocacy on behalf of people with disabilities and youth aging out of foster care. She is deputy commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Human Services, overseeing the Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) and the Division of Disability Services (DDS).
These divisions have a combined annual operating budget of nearly $2 billion, are staffed by more than 9,000 employees and provide vital support and services to individuals with developmental and other disabilities through contracts with more than 300 agencies such as CAU. The support CAU receives from DDD and DDS is vital to its ability to fulfill its mission and help members thrive, according to Blanchard.
CAU’s Helping Hands Self-Advocacy Group was awarded The Geller Award, which each year is presented to a person or group who have made a significant commitment to their relationship with CAU, including through volunteerism; have notably impacted the agency through their association with CAU and its members; have shown initiative; and best reflect the universal concept of volunteerism in its truest meaning to serve as an inspiration to others.
Helping Hands comprises CAU members who are committed to advocating for their rights, as well as those of other members of CAU and all people with disabilities. Members are involved in legislative updates, letter writing campaigns, accessibility and voting campaigns and “Meet the Candidates” events.
They also attend local, state and national conferences and conduct professional workshops. Begun in 1984, Helping Hands is one of the oldest and strongest self-advocacy groups in New Jersey.
In the past year Helping Hands publically applauded the signing of Rosa’s Law by President Obama, officially eliminating the terms “mental retardation” and “mentally retarded” from federal education, health and labor laws and replacing them with the term “intellectual disability.” The group also donated $1,000 to a Roselle family who lost several relatives in the earthquake that devastated Haiti, the money being used to help members of the family on the island, relatives of CAU member David Dimanche.
Prominent business leaders as well as state, county and local elected officials also were in attendance and paid tribute to the accomplishments of CAU and its members. Martin Melilli, regional vice president for TD Bank, presented CAU a check from the TD Charitable Foundation, the charitable giving arm of TD Bank, for $15,000 in support of the agency’s HomeShare Program.
“At TD Bank building strong communities where our customers and employees live and work is a priority,” Melilli said. “CAU continues to make a positive impact in the community, and we are proud to support their efforts.”
“We appreciate what they do day in and day out,” said Union County Freeholder Angel Estrada. “They are compassionate, efficient and effective, and in these economic times, they have a respect for the dollars we provide to them and their members.”
Sid Blanchard (second from right), CAU executive director, receives a check for $15,000 from the TD Charitable Foundation in support of the agency’s HomeShare Program from TD Bank representatives Rosalinda Perez (left), Mary Jane McDonough and Martin Melilli, all vice presidents at the bank. (Photos courtesy of Community Access Unlimited)
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