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Bowling a strong advocate for disabled citizens

Guest commentary

Tom Connelly

Tom Connelly

On May 8, at the Cobb Renaissance Hotel in Atlanta, Annette Bowling, the executive director of Albany ARC, received the Governor’s Award from Nobis Works. This organization, an Atlanta-based nonprofit created in 1977, is named for Tommy Nobis, former Atlanta Falcons All-Pro linebacker, with the purpose of vocationally training people with disabilities.

Ms. Bowling was chosen from among 18 candidates. Additionally, it was announced earlier in the function that Ms. Bowling won the Breaking Barriers Award.

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Special photo

Annette Bowling, executive director of the Albany ARC, receives the Governor’s Award from Nobis Works in May. This organization, an Atlanta-based nonprofit created in 1977, is named for Tommy Nobis, former Atlanta Falcons All-Pro linebacker, with the purpose of vocationally training people with disabilities. (July 18, 2013)

These two accolades are just the latest Ms. Bowling has accumulated in her 40-year career as executive director of Albany ARC. In fact, Ms. Bowling has received almost every award in Georgia pertaining to advocacy, as she has directed and advocated for numerous programs to enhance the quality and dignity of life for Georgians with disabilities of all ages. Furthermore, Ms. Bowling practices what she preaches, as 30 percent of the workers at Albany ARC have disabilities.

During her storied career with Albany ARC, this agency has become one of the most cost-efficient and successful nonprofits in Georgia. Whereas when Ms. Bowling joined the agency in 1974 this agency only advocated for people with disabilities, today there exists 14 programs serving in excess of 1,200 clients. These programs are enabling the clients to reach new heights and live more rewarding lives.

A big breakthrough for Ms. Bowling and ARC occurred in 1978 when Project ARC became the first funded program with a line item in the state budget. This program, which initially served Dougherty and four other counties, is a case management program serving individuals who historically had few options in obtaining basic requirements for equal opportunities. Project ARC demonstrated a need for residential services, as well as for early intervention services.

In 1983, Albany ARC Preschool Program was opened. With its offices and classroom rooms situated on the Albany State University campus, ASU faculty member and ARC board member Dr. Brenda Hodges Tiller oversaw its growth and development. This program was mutually beneficial: it helped the students receive assistance with their tasks, and it enabled the ASU interns to gain experience in their field.

Starting the next year — 1984 — the Albany ARC residential program was begun: two group homes were constructed, one on Rosebrier Avenue and the other on Partridge Lane. This program had a significant impact on Albany ARC, as it caused them to realize the value of housing formally institutionalized consumers into a surrounding where they could learn life skills and enjoy frequent interactions with their own families. Albany ARC and the consumers’ relatives became aware that consumers could live independently and enjoy dignity, freedom and acceptance. In the 1986-87 time frame, a small number of supervised assisted living facilities were constructed. As a result, it was learned that the consumers could live in regular apartments and in an integrated community setting. The home was located on Gillionville Road and the duplexes on Fourth Avenue.

Following that, ARC assisted their consumers in obtaining another goal. These individuals, enjoying new freedoms, expressed a desire to get married and own their own homes. Therefore, ARC stepped up for these consumers and took care of the process of acquiring traditional bank mortgages for the couples. Then, the first condominiums for people with development disabilities were built. Albany ARC assisted the consumers in this endeavor by taking care of the new HUD applications: these couples were placed in Stuart Place Condominiums.

Later, the House of Hope became a reality. This facility is the most handicapped accessible home in Albany. The Albany Board of Realtors contributed to this facility. Christopher Reeves, of Superman fame, visited the facility and formally dedicated it.

Concerning the state government, Ms. Bowling has been a very strong advocate for people with disabilities. She has shepherded many pieces of legislation that have aided this population in Southwest Georgia. For instance, she helped push through House Bill 100, which formed Regional Offices with the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health/Developmental Disabilities.

Ms. Bowling was also involved in HB 1146: this created GVRA (Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency) as a stand-alone agency.

So well known is Ms. Bowling that various governors of Georgia have called her, requesting that she take care of some concerns for them.

Regarding the achievements and activities or awards Ms. Bowling has been involved with or received, the list is most impressive. She is a board member of ARC of Georgia, Southwest Georgia Easter Seals, Mental Health, Women in Network, and the Brain and Spinal Injury Trust Commission, to name a few. Cited as one of 100 most influential Georgians by Georgia Trend magazine, she has received numerous honors and awards for her labors with mentally ill, mental retardation, as well as other disabilities.

Ms. Bowling has also been the driving force behind the creation of Dougherty Leadership Development Institute (DLDI). This was the first leadership training program in Georgia, and possibly in the nation, which integrated individuals with disabilities and those without disabilities. Some of those with disabilities who participated in this program have risen to new heights. For instance, Ivey Hines was a member of the charter class in 1992. At that time, he worked at the Marine Corps Logistics Base as a supply systems analyst. Currently, Mr. Hines works as an IT (information technology) specialist on base. In addition, Mr. Hines serves as a city commissioner for Albany. He has a visual disability.

Collie Robinson, another person with a visual disability, was a graduate student at Albany State University when she went through the program. These days, she serves as director of the Center For the Blind program at Albany ARC.

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