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AARC advocates for those with disabilities

On June 11, Albany Advocacy Resource Center (ARC) held its annual membership meeting at the Knights of Columbus. AARC, as it is sometimes referred to, is the most comprehensive non-profit agency in Georgia working for the betterment of persons with disabilities. It has 14 programs which serve this population, as well as their families and self-advocates, all in a cost-effective manner.

Among those present were Executive Director Annette Bowling, Deputy Director Sandra Edge, President Rick Doherty and incoming President Debbie Fulford.

The mission of AARC, founded in 1963, is to promote the general welfare of persons with disabilities wherever they are, and to foster the development of programs on their behalf. Every AARC employee believes it is their duty to make certain that all people should be given the same opportunities and rights, regardless of their abilities or disabilities.

During the last fiscal year, Mr. Doherty shared, AARC established a Center for the Blind/Older Blind, as well as started two navigational support groups. One is for the purpose of helping parents navigate the world of autism for their children, and the other supports young adults with Asperger's Syndrome as they navigate the complicated social world.

AARC also opened two new apartment complexes, which provide housing for some of their consumers. Mr. Doherty thanked the supporters of AARC, including the United Way of Southwest Georgia, the Mitchell EMC Foundation, Jane S. Willson, Jackson Harris and the Deerfield-Windsor School first-grade boys, and Bo Bennett and Matt Stafford.

Regarding new goals, Ms. Fulford wanted to continue seeking U.S. Housing and Urban Development grants to build affordable homes in safe, secure environments in Albany and Lee County, It is Ms. Fulford's goal to continually strive to improve life for persons with disabilities. Also mentioned was the fact that moving into a new office, 3005 Old Dawson Road, will allow AARC to move several of its programs from rented property into that facility. That will allow the organization to finally become debt-free, enabling those expenses to be channeled directly into consumer needs.

Among AARC's programs is Adult Day/Independent Living Program, which is designed to address the needs of persons 21 years old and up with developmental disabilities. The program provides services to persons needing day services and teaches self-help skills, daily living skills and socialization, among other skills. Fifty-six consumers currently receive services there. Kaycee Gilliard is director of Adult Day.

S.O.U.R.C.E. (Service Options Using Resources in Community Environment) is a program under Medicaid that pairs medical care with prevention and support services. AARC provides case management. The main goal of S.O.U.R.C.E. is to assist consumers in their attempts to live independently in the community for as long as possible. Case managers help determine and provide needed services. They stay in touch with consumers and alter services as needed. Grace Williams serves as director of this program.

Project ARC helps clients live independently in the community. It helps out with activities such as medical appointments and grocery shopping. One hundred and five clients were served last year. Rose Ponder is the director.

In AARC's Residential Program, clients are assisted in their endeavors to find suitable housing. The program addresses the wants, goals, skills, needs and other factors in this area. One hundred and 28 clients were served last fiscal year. Shea Vinson serves as director.

In Employability, consumers learn work skills and the employees assist them in finding and maintaining employment. One hundred and 63 persons with disabilities work for AARC. Al Weaver directs this program.

DLDI (Dougherty Leadership Development Institute) began in 1991 in conjunction with Leadership Albany Alumni, the Division of Rehabilitation Services and individuals in the private sector. The purpose of DLDI is to integrate individuals with disabilities and non-disabled individuals into the leadership community and empower them to achieve an even greater influence over their lives. Since its inception, there have been more than 370 graduates of this program, the first of its kind in Georgia and possibly in the United States. Lou Lee is the program director.

In HSHT (High School/High tech), Dougherty County School System students with disabilities have a curriculum-based program that focuses on improving graduation rates and/or helping them become work-force ready. This program serves 60 Dougherty high school students and is directed by Paula Noble.

These, as well as other AARC programs, including ICWP/DMA (Independent Waiver Care program for clients with TBI and/or SCI), Case Management Services, Judevine-Autism, Pre-School and Mental Health, help make Albany truly the Good Life City, especially for persons with disabilities. For more information about AARC, call 9229) 888-6852.

Tom Connelly, MS, CRC, has lived in Albany for more than 20 years. He is a member of the AARC Advisory Board.