ELIZABETH – With the renewal of spring, romance blooms anew as couples holding hands stroll through warm evenings and feel their love renewed. Each spring there also is a very special celebration of love as people with disabilities who are in committed relationships come together to honor their love at the annual Couples Night celebration of Community Access Unlimited.
CAU is a statewide nonprofit providing support programs and services to more than 6,000 adults with disabilities as well as youth served under the Department of Children and Families to enable them to live independently in the community, in areas including vocational and life-skills training, education, advocacy and recreation and in-home services.
“At CAU our mission is to enable people with disabilities to live independent and fulfilling lives within the community,” said Sid Blanchard, the agency’s executive director. “While that includes housing, employment and recreation, people with disabilities also often enjoy the pleasures of committed relationships – love, companionship and support. While many members of the general public and even professionals within the social services sector may not fully understand this, we at CAU encourage and celebrate it.”
CAU hosted Couples Night April 17 at Suburban Golf Club in Union. As music filled the evening, CAU members who are couples mingled, danced and dined. Several who have been with the agency for many years also caught up with fellow members who they do not see regularly.
Lee and Christine Bongiovi have been married 14 years, having met through a mutual friend. “Friends were having a party for me and that’s when he told me he liked me,” Christine said.
The couple has one son, Justin, and they enjoy going out as a family to the mall, the movies and other activities. Yet like all married couples with children, Lee and Christine also enjoy getting out alone.
“It’s a chance to get together with our significant others and a chance to go out alone,” Lee said. “We dance and catch up with old friends.”
Eddie Matthews and Elaine Siegel have been married 21 years. Their meeting was unusual. “I was living with his ex-girlfriend,” Elaine said. “We didn’t really hit it off right away. It took some time.”
More than two decades later their love has never been stronger and they enjoy attending Couples Night to celebrate it. “”It’s nice,” Ed said. “It’s a chance for the members to go out with their boyfriend, girlfriend or spouse and get away from home. And it’s nice to be with people you know.”
Elaine even spreads the romance when she can. In fact, she introduced Blanchard to his wife, Liz.
Vailene and Carla Fields have been married for five years. They met on a chat line and took the step of meeting. “I was a little nervous but excited at the same time,” Carla said. “Vailene is a very kind-hearted person.”
“We have a little 8-year-old daughter, Autumn, and spend a lot of time with her,” said Vailene. “We have a family fun night. Carla and I spend a lot of time communicating to keep the relationship strong. It’s an opportunity for us to spend time together away from our routine,” Vailene said. “And it’s a time for me to mingle with my peers.”