Prom is a magical time for so many young people. Gowns and tuxedos, limousine rides to elegant establishments, and romantic dancing all come together to create a night to be treasured for a lifetime.
Many people with disabilities do not have those memories because they may never went to prom, either because they attended an alternative education program or simply because no one ever asked them and they did not feel welcomed.
The members of Community Access Unlimited (CAU) are able to create memories of attending prom and can even make new ones year after year. On June 10, more than 70 members dressed to the nines and attended the 11th Annual CAU Community Prom, held at Peterstown Community Center in Elizabeth. They enjoyed good food, dancing, taking prom pictures, and music from a DJ who also is a member of the agency.
CAU is a statewide Elizabeth-based nonprofit providing support programs and services to adults with disabilities as well as youth served under the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to enable them to live independently in the community, providing support in areas including housing, vocational skills and life-skills training, education, advocacy and recreation.
The CAU prom is the brainchild of former CAU member Sid Katz and current member Gary Rubin. Rubin is president of the agency’s self-advocacy member group, Helping Hands, which hosts the evening, including selecting the theme, music, decorations and more.
“A lot of people with disabilities don’t go to prom in high school because of their disability,” Rubin said. “A lot of people look down on people with disabilities. So we said, ‘Why don’t we have our own?'”
Mary Kurnos, a CAU member for 29 years, was attending her second prom last week after never going to the dance in high school. She was joined this year by her date, Peter Rusu, a member for 10 years who attended prom as a teenager but did not enjoy it.
“We’re enjoying meeting with other members and the music and atmosphere,” Kurnos said. “It’s a night out on the town.”
Myrta Rosa has attended the CAU prom every year since joining the agency six years ago. She did not go to prom when she was young because her parents did not allow her to interact with anyone outside their family. She loves the interaction with other CAU members she has enjoyed since coming to the agency from the Woodbridge Developmental Center.
“We’re just like everybody else,” Rosa said. “Just because we have a disability, we shouldn’t be segregated. We should be socializing, like everybody else. I’m glad they do this because people without disabilities can see that we should be together like one happy family.”
Toward that end, the CAU Prom is open to all members of the community, not simply CAU members, according to Rolando Zorrilla, Assistant Executive Director of Developmental Disabilities Support Services at CAU.
“Our mission at CAU is to enable our members to live fully integrated lives within the community,” he said. “That is why we welcome everyone to this event.”