Community Access Unlimted Honors Community Partners, Members And Staff

MOUNTAINSIDE – Community Access Unlimited (CAU) last week honored its community partners and celebrated the accomplishments of its members and staff at the 28th Annual Awards Night Celebration, held at L’Affaire Fine Catering in Mountainside.

CAU honored individuals and organizations that help the agency fulfill its mission of enabling members to integrate into the community, become economically self-sufficient, exercise their civil rights of self-advocacy, live healthy lives and enjoy personal growth, according to Paul LaMaine, assistant executive director of developmental disabilities services at CAU. The agency provides support services to people with disabilities and at-risk youth.

Alfonsina Savino of Berkeley Heights received the Educator of the Year Award for her commitment to enabling students to achieve their potential through her work at the Gateway School in Carteret.

The Play It Smart program of the New Brunswick High School was given the Community Service Award for the program’s annual support of the CAU walk-a-thon. 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.

James R. Guerra, Architects of Elizabeth received the Supportive Housing Service Award for their efforts to provide safe and affordable housing and for creating barrier-free housing for people with disabilities.

The New Providence Police Department was named Citizen of the Year for supporting CAU members living in New Providence, including providing daily checks after last year’s Halloween storm left their home without power.

Kenneth Widgeon of the Division of Youth and Family Services was named Youth Advocate of the Year for his dedication to youth and to helping young people graduate high school and move on to college.

Dr. Romeo Caballes Jr. of Somerville was honored as Health Care Professional of the Year for medical care he regularly provides a CAU member and for intimately knowing her medical needs.

Rachel Reed of the Division of Developmental Disabilities received the Distinguished Social Service Award for her advocacy for CAU members, including ensuring they receive all the services to which they are entitled.

Charlene Bathelus of Prevention Links was given the Community Partnership Award for partnering with CAU through education, collaboration and linkage of available resources. Prevention Links is a nonprofit organization committed to the prevention of drugs, alcohol, tobacco and related issues.

“These individuals and organizations help us build community support systems and they stand out from the rest,” LaMaine said.

CAU also honored the accomplishments of its members at the dinner, including independent living, recreation, education and employment. The agency recognized 19 competitively employed members who have a combined 296 years of employment service. Staff members from CAU’s various areas were honored, as well.

Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi, chair of the Ann Baran Scholarship Fund, awarded $2,000 scholarships to the 2012 recipients of the education support. Ann Baran was the Union County manager who died of cancer in 2006 and a scholarship in her name is supported by CAU and local businesses and individuals.

“The scholarship winners are representative of Ann Baran’s values,” Rajoppi said. “Each of them holds two jobs and are furthering their education, in some cases while raising a family. Ann’s values of giving back to the community are embodied in them. I know they are going to give back in the future.”

The dinner was attended by several local and state office holders, including Union County Freeholder Bette Jane Kowalski, Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage and Assemblyman Joe Cryan.

“We are so pleased to be working with Community Access and to be partnering wherever we can, and to see the great progress they have made over the years reaching out to people who need care in so many ways,” Kowalski said. “The people they are helping truly appreciate it and it is a great service to the community.”

“Community Access does a great job making sure people who are challenged in life have an opportunity not only for employment but also for housing,” Bollwage said.

“They are an amazing organization,” Cryan said. “It’s rare that an organization changes lives the way Community Access does each and every day. There is a lot of discussion about unsung heroes. The care providers of Community Access are unsung heroes every day.”

Sid Blanchard, CAU executive director, recognized the collective audience, including community partners, members and staff.

“You represent what we’re all about at Community Access Unlimited,” he said. “Unlimited in work in the community. Unlimited not only in personal achievement but unlimited in community care, as well.”

Community Access Unlimited (CAU), celebrating its 33rd anniversary in 2012, supports people with special needs in achieving real lives in the community. CAU provides support and gives a voice to adults and youth who traditionally have had little support and no voice in society. CAU helps people with 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. CAU serves more than 5,000 individuals each year. For more information about CAU and its services, visit

Kenneth Widgeon (center left) of the Division of Youth and Family Services is honored as Youth Advocate of the Year by Union County Freeholder Betty Jane Kowalski (left); Sid Blanchard, executive director of Community Access Unlimited (CAU); and Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi at CAU’s 28th Annual Awards Night Celebration. (Photo courtesy of CAU)

Frank Lawrence (right) of James R. Guerra Architects, receives the Supportive Housing Service Award from Morris Frasier, housing director at Community Access Unlimited, at the agency’s 28th Annual Awards Night Celebration. (Photo courtesy of CAU)

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