UNION COUNTY, NJ — Community Access Unlimited held its 15th annual walk-a-thon on Sept. 27 for people with disabilities and at-risk youth.
More than 550 residents, members and staff celebrated community and diversity at CAU’s Ira Geller Memorial Walk-a-Thon at Oak Ridge Park in Clark. The agency, based in Elizabeth, raised more than $60,000 at the event.
The annual fundraiser supports programs and services of CAU, a statewide nonprofit serving the community for more than 37 years. CAU currently serves more than 6,000 people statewide.
According to CAU executive director Sid Blanchard, the walk-a-thon celebrates all that the agency strives to be. “It’s about working and wanting to help each other be a part of the larger community,” Blanchard said in a statement.
In addition to the actual walk, CAU members, families, staff and community partners enjoyed games and Italian ices as the aroma of the barbecue floated in the air, accompanied by a continuous flow of popular songs. “This is a family event with a focus on community,” Blanchard said. “We also want to welcome people from the community to become a member of the CAU family.”
Blanchard recalled CAU’s early days. “In 1979, it was one person in my car,” he said. “An event was me getting a cup of coffee. Now we serve over 6,000 members.”
Paul LaMaine, CAU senior assistant executive director and one of the day’s game masters, said the funds raised at the walk are used to purchase equipment; support apartment rentals and job training assistance; and for financial needs, among many other programs. “We want to help people be free to lead productive lives,” he said. “It’s about becoming part of the community at large,” said LaMaine.
The community at large includes CAU’s community partners, businesses and organizations that regularly support the agency and its members.
Alyssa Mistretta, coordinator of fundraising for CAU, said that funds were raised through the help of local business sponsorships, contributions from employees, friends and families of the organization, and through a new online fundraising initiative called Crowdrise, where CAU created an Ira Geller Walk-a-thon fundraising page that is open to the public. “It is our mission to support individuals with disabilities as well as at-risk youth and provide them the opportunity to live independently and productively integrated into the community,” Mistretta told LocalSource in an email. “Events like this focus on the community. One of CAU’s main values is community integration, and holding events like this allows us to be a presence in our local communities, and allows the community to better get to know CAU and to become a member of the CAU family.”