Blocker takes leap of faith as autism academy opens

Photo by Avan Clark

Photo by Avan Clark

ALBANY, Ga. -- In July of 2005, Diane Blocker vividly remembers when a doctor informed her that her 3-year-old son, Garrett, was diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder.

That was when Blocker said that "autism took over."

It was at that seminal moment that the seeds of the Albany Autism Center were planted. Five years later Bridgewood Academy opened its doors.

The non-profit Bridgewood Academy's facility on Third Avenue, will be co-located with the AAC and its school for disabled children.

"I am just a parent," Blocker, Bridgewood's director, said. "And, I'll be honest with you, this makes me really nervous. We've spent a lot of money and opened our doors.

"There are a lot of people counting on me now."

After her son was diagnosed with autism, Blocker began a quest for information on autism, but found it difficult to locate.

"The information was out there, but you really had to look for it," said Blocker, who works as the Marine Corps Logistic Base's property manager of its maintenance center. "So I created a web site (www.sowegaautism.com) in February of 2006. It was designed to be everything autism."

As the need for services became more readily apparent. Blocker created the AAC in January of 2008 with space donated by Dawson Road Church of Christ.

"There was no way we would be where we are now if not for (the church)," Blocker said.

Two years later, the AAC was on the move again, settling in at its current location.

"We outgrew the church and needed more space," Blocker said. "So we just moved out. We needed some place to grow. This is where I've been led."

But Blocker needed some help make it happen.

Three months ago Albany Autism Center's Bid for Bachelors raised $20,000 for purchase of land and a building for the Academy.

"Kelli Halstead (the event organizer) deserves all the credit for it," Blocker said. "We had been working with the property owner for awhile and the money we raised was the exact amount we needed to get onto the property."

The center currently has two children in therapy, and that number will grow to 10 for the AAC's summer program. On the Bridgewood side, the Academy will specialize in educating children with disabilities.

Blocker is hiring teachers and therapists to help fulfill her dream.

"Eventually we want the Bridgewood side to be able to educate 40 special needs children," Blocker said. "We want parents who are looking for the best education possible for their children in a small and intimate environment."

Blocker had the vision, the drive and she still has a plan.

"We want to build and grow and turn Bridgewood Academy into a first-class therapy center," She said. "Then I'll be done and we can use Bridgewood as a model to be used in other cities in Southwest Georgia."

Then the seeds planted in 2005 will have borne fruit.