After lockdown, dream comes true for couple with disabilities

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UNION COUNTY, NJ — After six months of physical separation during the COVID-19 lockdown, Megan Modero and Maurice Stephens couldn’t wait to be together and say their vows.

“COVID-19 wasn’t going to stop our wedding,” Megan Stephens said afterward. It was meant to be, according to her husband.

From the time they met at a Halloween party hosted by Community Access Unlimited, the two instantly connected; they took things slowly to make the relationship a lasting one, Megan Stephens said. CAU is a Union County–based, statewide nonprofit that strives to integrate people with disabilities and youth at risk into the general community through comprehensive supports.

Maurice Stephens proposed to Modero on her birthday in June 2019 at one of her favorite places to eat, the Rainforest Cafe.

“I was scared and nervous, but I knew Megan would be happy no matter what,” Maurice Stephens said.

A few months into planning their nuptials, the couple realized that their plans to have a large wedding wouldn’t be possible, due to the pandemic. To make matters worse, they were separated while quarantined at different CAU residential programs.

“We couldn’t see each other, and it was very hard,” Megan Stephens said. “It did make our wedding day more special.”

Thankfully, their family and the support system at CAU stepped up to make their special day possible and find the couple the perfect apartment in Fanwood, where they moved just in time for the wedding. On Saturday, Oct. 17, the couple were married before their closest family members and friends in a garden at Warinanco Park in Roselle.

“It was important for us to invite CAU members and staff, because they really are a second family for both Megan and Maurice — we really wanted to share the day with them,” said Marguerite Modero, Megan’s mother. Rolando Zorrilla, managing assistant executive director of youth services at the agency, served as the best man.

Marguerite Modero teaches music and theater classes at the CAU Academy of Continuing Education and is the founder and director of the CAU Community Players, an inclusive theater group composed of performers with and without disabilities.

Maurice Stephens, sharing in the family’s love of musical theater, has brought his talents in painting and visual arts to CAU productions. He said his wife’s passion for the shows convinced him to join in.

“Maurice is a very creative person and he fits in perfectly with our family,” Marguerite Modero said. “It meant so much to have everyone at CAU at the wedding, because, without the staff at CAU, they would not have made this journey into adulthood and found this love.”

Through employment supports at CAU, the newly married couple are working part-time to help finance their independence.

“Maurice is one of a kind — he loves me a lot and he cares for me,” Megan Stephens said. “We share a lot of happiness and ups and downs. We have a lot of togetherness and we understand each other. … We were very excited to move in together. I want to be on my own and independent.”

Many people discount that people with disabilities want to find love and companionship, according to Marguerite Modero.

“I think, as advocates of people with disabilities, we need to say that they deserve love and a relationship and their happily ever after, if it’s possible,” she said. “I’m grateful to CAU for having an enlightened perspective on marriage. They treated them as two adults with dignity and understood they were in love.”

Her daughter agreed that finding love can mean taking chances to connect with others in your community.

“I would definitely tell people with disabilities to not be afraid to get out there and do things,” she said.

Maurice Stephens added that they have already started asking other CAU couples when they plan to tie the knot.

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