What are you thankful for?

November 24, 2021

Erin Jerome

andre melissa

Melissa Pearl and Andre Foster

Many of us have much to be thankful for this holiday season: increased comfort and safety visiting family and friends thanks to vaccines, and a return to some of our favorite activities and regular schedules. 

The challenges of the pandemic for people with disabilities have sometimes been more complicated: dealing with changes to important services and navigating the state-mandated safety rules of service providers. People with disabilities also faced significantly higher rates of unemployment during the pandemic.

Members at Community Access Unlimited said that overcoming issues makes this season of thanks even sweeter. CAU is a Union County-based, statewide nonprofit that works to integrate people with disabilities and youth at risk into the community through comprehensive supports.

“I’m thankful for my abilities and being able to adapt to whatever comes my way and overcome any obstacle,” said Andre Foster, who attends CAU’s Academy for Continuing Education. “I’m thankful for my family for providing me the support I needed to attend this program, and for the staff at the program for making it a safe and secure environment for all of us to interact and come together.”

Andre said he was excited to return in person in September at ACE in Roselle, where he takes classes with his girlfriend, Melissa Pearl. 

Foster and Pearl said they were careful to limit their face-to-face time at the height of the pandemic because Pearl had received a kidney transplant. Now they feel their relationship is even stronger after working together to support each other. 

“It was a challenge for both of us finding ways to be able to see each other,” Pearl said. “It was difficult having that kind of a relationship for a year and a half. We did find ways to see each other even if it was through a computer screen.”


Megan and Maurice Stephens

CAU members Megan and Maurice Stephens said they were grateful to be married at a church this October after holding a smaller outdoor wedding last year. Both of them have also returned to work with assistance from the agency, with Megan working at a retail store and Maurice working in security at the CAU office. The couple will also be appearing in the CAU Community Players production of Elf the Musical Jr., showing virtually Dec. 10-12. Tickets are available at caunj.org.

“It was my goal to be married for a whole year and we’re closer now than before,” Maurice said.

“I’m thankful for my second wedding, for my apartment, and for Maurice, my family, and my job,” Megan said. 

Andrew Barry lives at at CAU residential program and said he is thankful and excited to have started a new job on the CAU cleaning crew. He is looking forward to decorating his program to be festive for all the members for the holidays. 

“It feels so great- I love all the job coaches and I have one friend who cleans with me,” Barry said. 

CAU is participating in #GivingTuesday, occurring this year on Nov. 30. The international day of giving takes place annually on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving and the widely recognized shopping events Black Friday and Cyber Monday to kick-off the holiday giving season and inspire people to collaborate in improving their local communities. Donations support CAU’s comprehensive services for individuals with disabilities and youth at risk and contribute to expenses such as emergency personal items and clothing for new members moving into CAU housing and other programs that increase community inclusion and independence.

“Donating to the program goes a long way to helping people of all different disabilities connect with one another and feel valued and that they matter,” Foster said.

Those who are interested in joining CAU’s #GivingTuesday initiative can visit www.caunj.org/support-us/

“Donating to the program goes a long way to helping people of all different disabilities connect with one another and feel valued and that they matter,” Foster said.

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