Community Access Unlimited Members Give Thanks For Home

Ashley Lasanta beams at the front door of her new home in Westfield, one of four new properties owned by Community Access Unlimited. (Photo courtesy of Community Access Unlimited)

UNION COUNTY – Ashley Lasanta beams as she drives her wheelchair across the large living room of her new home and breathes in the smell of a new house. She could not be more thankful for her new home.

Not long ago Lasanta, who has a developmental disability, was living in an abusive situation after her grandparents died. After temporarily residing in CAU’s transitional Emergency Capacity System, Lasanta moved into her new home in Westfield Oct. 7.

“This is the best Thanksgiving gift,” Lasanta said. “I love it here. I love the staff. I feel safe here. It’s more than I expected. I didn’t expect it to be this big.”

Lasanta’s new home is one of several multi-family properties CAU has opened this fall or will open Dec. 1, enabling 22 people with disabilities or at-risk youth to enjoy the safety and emotional security of a home. The properties will bring the total number of properties owned and operated by CAU for use by its members to more than 200.

CAU provides support services to people with disabilities and at-risk youth that enable members to live independently within the community. The nonprofit was founded in 1979 with the mission of enabling its members to live full, rewarding and productive lives.

“Nearly 3,000 New Jersey residents live in developmental centers,” said Sid Blanchard, CAU executive director. “The annual cost for each is about $225,000, or two to three times the average cost of community living. The cost for providing community housing for CAU members runs just $20,000 to $80,000 annually.”

The four new CAU properties include two four-bedroom homes in Scotch Plains, a six-bedroom home in Westfield and a seven-unit apartment building in Roselle comprising four four-bedroom units and three two-bedroom units. The Roselle property will be a combination of CAU housing units, market-rate rentals and commercial space on the ground floor.

“Having a home, your own bedroom, a kitchen to make your meals in, this is one of the most fundamental rights of every person,” Blanchard said. “In the beginning of 2011 there were nearly 1,500 homeless people in Union County. There are thousands of people with disabilities living in institutions. Countless young people aging out of the child welfare system find themselves with no place to go where they can safely start their adult lives.

“This is even more tragic at this time of year when so many of us are thankful for our good fortunes. Through these properties and others like them, we are able to make a small dent in those numbers and allow those who are less fortunate than us to be thankful, as well.”

Darcelle VanDunk is thankful to be in her new home in Scotch Plains, which she moved into Oct. 17. Prior to moving in, she had lived in a group home, a facility serving people with disabilities, a hospital and a nursing home.

“It’s nice here,” said VanDunk, who has multiple disabilities. “It’s comfortable for me. It’s a nice, quiet neighborhood and nobody bothers you. It feels like we’re in the country. They have deer running around outside.”

VanDunk is grateful for her new home. She hopes she and the deer stay a long time.

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