The Center for Educational Advancement (CEA) hosts what it calls New Jersey’s “original” Turkey Trot—a claim that its president and CEO Michael Skoczek says has never been disputed.
The CEA has been facilitating career pathways and community employment for students and adults with various disabilities since 1970. Its 30th annual run/walk, a joint effort with Flemington’s Johanna Foods, takes place on Thanksgiving Day, November 24. The 5K run or two-mile walk begins at 71 Main Street in Flemington—there’s also a virtual option—and raises money for the CEA through sponsors, donations and registration fees. (Registration ends at 11:59 pm on November 23.)
The season of giving begins in November, and the CEA is hoping the holiday spirit and one of its premier fundraisers proves fruitful for the Hunterdon County not-for-profit.
The organization’s training and coaching programs, employment and evaluation services, and CEA School, located at South Hunterdon Regional High School, have helped roughly 230 people across Hunterdon, Somerset and Middlesex counties over the past year. For Skoczek, the chance to assist people with disabilities doubles as an opportunity to help local communities discover an untapped workforce that may otherwise be wrongly overlooked.
“There’s a wealth of talent out there,” he says. “Sometimes it just needs a bit more help or push, or the right approach to develop it, understand it or even see it.”
The CEA’s approach is tailored to the individual. While earlier grades of the CEA’s high-school level school focus on academics, latter stages through age 21 concentrate on students’ “transition to adulthood.” The CEA School can prepare students for higher education or job training.
The CEA’s training programs let participants experience different jobs so they can discover their interests and skills. Graduates have secured work in various industries, including food service and customer service, entertainment, retail, construction and commercial packaging. (CEA also operates a re-packaging facility that generates revenue and provides additional employment opportunities.)
“There is no one track,” says Elizabeth Bracco, who handles the CEA’s fundraising and development. “It depends on the individual’s need. Some people might try out different jobs and different geographic areas.”
As for the Turkey Trot, Skoczek says the holiday tradition is a major tourist attraction for Hunterdon County. He expects at least 4,000 people this year and hopes the event nets $130,000, which will go directly toward coaches for the CEA’s training programs.
Skoczek adds that fundraising and “donations are so important” to the CEA, as they “help more people find more work in more places so they can be part of their communities.”
The CEA’s mission is to facilitate career pathways and community employment for students and adults with disabilities. The organization welcomes sponsors, donations and volunteers. For more information, visit cea-nj.org.
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