Albany ARC maintains commitment to region

Laura Calhoun, development director for the Albany Advocacy Resource Center, gives an overview of the organization’s services at a recent meeting of the Dougherty Rotary Club.

Laura Calhoun, development director for the Albany Advocacy Resource Center, gives an overview of the organization’s services at a recent meeting of the Dougherty Rotary Club.

ALBANY, Ga. -- Among the advocates for those with disabilities in the region over the last few decades has been the Albany Advocacy Resource Center. Recently, an area civic club got an education on what ARC does.

Laura Calhoun, development director for the Albany ARC, gave an overview on the agency at the Dougherty Rotary Club earlier this week.

While there are a number of services to tap into, many of which are provided at no charge, the agency has one common goal in mind: to provide equal opportunities.

"People with disabilities are just like you and me. We all want to be valued," Calhoun said. "We work the whole life cycle, from pre-K onward. We work with typical and atypical children. We help the elderly maintain their independence."

Among the newer services is the Center for the Blind, which opened in 2010. It provides whatever services, resources, referral or information a blind or visually impaired person may need --- and it includes a residential component, Calhoun said.

The House of Hope helps disabled clients become work-ready again, and outreach services are provided by the Albany ARC to those who have suffered traumatic brain or spinal cord injuries.

For high school students in the Dougherty County School System, ARC offers the High School/High Tech program based at Westover High School. Through that program, students from any Dougherty school on the high school level who have a documented disability can receive specialized attention in order to improve graduation test scores and help advance their education.

"Nine out of 10 will graduate with a diploma," Calhoun said. "If they do not graduate with a diploma, they are work-ready."

The ARC also has a mental health program that provides all-around case management for its clients. The program may help clients obtain social security benefits, food stamp applications, transportation to the doctor, and assistance in obtaining medications, among other things.

There is also the Judevine Autism Training Program.

"There are two trainers certified to train parents, employers (and others) to recognize autism and deal with it early on," Calhoun said.

Among the other services provided by the agency is its residential program. That program assists clients with providing the right type of housing and receiving individualized support, which is done utilizing dozens of housing units throughout Albany.

"We don't necessarily give them money, but what we do give we make sure is managed correctly," Calhoun said.

In addition, the EmployAbility program assists clients with finding and keeping employment, and a thrift store on Pine Avenue helps cover expenses the ARC incurs.

A collaboration more than two decades ago with the Leadership Albany alumni, area rehabilitation services and members of the private business sector resulted in the Dougherty Leadership Development Institute program. Created in 1991, it integrates disabled and non-disabled individuals into the leadership community in order to empower them.

"It is similar to Leadership Albany, but it includes those with or without disabilities," Calhoun said.

The agency's services are offered to 1,200 people in a 14-county area through the help of waivers, federal funding, assistance from the United Way of Southwest Georgia as well as other fundraising efforts. In all, the organization has 350 employees -- which includes contract personnel.

"We are virtually a statewide organization that happens to be based in Albany," Calhoun said.

Calhoun added that the ARC always has an interest in people providing assistance to its programs, whether it be financially or by volunteering their time.

Since 1963, the Albany ARC has been supporting people with disabilities by providing care and services for people of all ages with physical and or mental disabilities in the fight for independence, community inclusion and citizenship. A brief history provided on the agency's website says it was founded to advocate on behalf of children with disabilities in the form of a preschool -- which was the first in the area to socially integrate children with and without disabilities.

The preschool component is still in operation today, which provides early intervention learning activities for both typical and atypical children from birth to 4 years of age.