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Union County group works to integrate residents with disabilities into community

in wheelchair holding hands
Melpomenem, ThinkStock

ELIZABETH — Launched nearly four decades ago with a $90,000 grant and a pledge to serve 20 people, Community Access Unlimited now helps 6,000 people every year in New Jersey.

The way CAU serves those New Jerseyans is by trying to break down the barriers that disabilities often can create in society.

“We do whatever it takes to serve a person with any kind of disability, to be integrated into the community throughout the state of New Jersey,” said Joanne Oppelt, CAU assistant executive director for business development.

CAU provides medical and behavioral services, life skills training and housing in Union County. The group also prioritizes connecting those they serve with recreational opportunities, like the CAU Community Players, who just last month staged a production of “Aladdin Jr.” starring actors with and without disabilities.

Another effort the organization makes to enhance quality of life is the Academy of Continuing Education, located in Cranford. It is designed as a post-high school facility for those with developmental disabilities who are interested in further learning, but are not going directly to college.

And just last fall, CAU unveiled a new 60,000-square foot headquarters. Staffers who are certified in first aid and CPR are stationed on every floor, as are AEDs. The building is outfitted with a deluxe auditorium and a cafeteria not only for people to sit and eat, but also for anyone interested in a food service career to receive training.

In all, CAU employs more than 1,100 people in New Jersey.

“The atmosphere here is one of teamwork, so that you never feel alone,” Oppelt said. “There’s always somebody who you’re working with, or who’s got your back.”

For more information, visit

Patrick Lavery produces “New Jersey’s First News” and is New Jersey 101.5’s morning drive breaking news reporter. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email

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