Georgia pair make a difference

In late summer, the annual Making A Difference appreciation ceremony of the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities took place. This event, which honors individuals whose work has improved the lives of persons with developmental disabilities in some way, was held at the Melia Hotel in downtown Atlanta. Included among the group of award winners were two young individuals from this region.

GCDD’s choice of Advocate of the Year was shared by six students involved in Partnership For Success PFS). Katherine Walker and Travis Baker of Colquitt County High School were among those students who collectively and individually have developed friendships while serving their communities and earning the respect of their schools. PFS is a high school based program which believes a student’s ability to make important life decisions for the future starts in high school or younger, and provides the opportunity for students to take part in activities which enhance their educational experience. Ms. Walker and Mr. Baker have been involved with this program since it was initiated at CCHS in 2008. (They attended the function with one of their sponsors, Chad Horne. He presented their award.) This program has become one of the largest and most successful clubs at CCHS. Chad Horne and Lynn Griffin serve as sponsors for PFS. This award was presented by Cindy Saylor, statewide Program Coordinator of PFS, and former GCDD member.

For the 2008-09 school year, the CCHS leadership council of PFS met daily as a class. During this time, these students, which consists of those with and without disabilities, made decisions concerning what the PFS members would do in the regular club meetings, and in which community and school improvement projects they would participate in. The bonds these leadership members formed over this period of time will be long lasting.

Ms. Walker is currently a senior. She possesses a bubbly attitude, and welcomes all to become her friend. A very accepting person, she never meets a stranger. Ms. Walker is more than willing to speak at community civic meetings as well as Special Olympic region games. She plays an important role in PFS decisions and successes.

Travis Baker currently attends the University of Georgia. While at CCHS, he also served as a very able spokesperson for PFS. His passion for building friendships was evident each time he spoke about PFS. He is currently pursuing a degree in special education.

The GCDD is a federally funded, independent state agency which serves as one of the main catalysts for systems change for individuals and families living with developmental disabilities. Through public policy initiatives, advocacy programs and community building, this agency promotes and creates opportunities for the purpose of enabling those with disabilities to live, learn, work, play, and worship as an integral component of their communities.

The efforts of GCDD are steered by a five-year strategic plan which focuses on researching, analyzing and modifying public policy; advancing advocacy on behalf of the developmental disabilities community; creating awareness concerning relevant issues; funding and implementing programs, and adopting best practices which improve its ability to deliver improved results.

Although the GCDD does not provide direct services, it many times serves as a convener for agencies, individuals, family members and supporters for the purpose of developing coordinated public policy. On a daily basis it strives to create what members of this agency see as “Real Communities.” The purpose of this initiative is to connect those with developmental disabilities and their organizations to other people and their associations to work collectively on issues facing the community, to accomplish major results: create real positive change which improves life for everyone in the community; build strong bridges to community organizations and leaders so people with disabilities have a larger number of people to count on, and learn about how to make real modifications in a fashion that moves away from “me” to “we.”

At the ceremony itself, awards were presented to individuals who have worked to achieve various goals of GCDD. The Legislative Leadership Honor went to state Rep. Donna Sheldon. She sponsored HB 226, the Individual Development Accounts, and Support for the Transportation Investment Act. Her district includes Dacula. Joseph Shapiro, of National Public Radio (NPR), garnered the Media Excellence Award. He was involved with investigative news reporting and national coverage of the Children’s Freedom Initiative.

In addition, the Carl Anthony Cunningham Council Member of the Year was announced. The winner of this year’s award was Randolph (Denny) Spear Jr. of Dunwoody. Eric Jacobson, GCDD executive director, and Tom Seegmueller, GCDD chairperson, were the presenters.

For more information about GCDD or Making A Difference Annual Appreciation Ceremony, please call GCDD at (404) 657-2126. Regarding the chairperson, Tom Seegmueller, he has served in this capacity since 2008. An Albany resident, Mr. Seegmueller worked for the DNR until his retirement. He currently is following a lifetime passion of researching and writing historical fiction. Mr. Seegmueller and his wife Kelly take care of their son Tyler.

Tom Connelly, MS, CRC, has lived in Albany for more than 20 years. He is a member of the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities.