ALBANY, Ga. -- The Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities recently elected new officers and executive committee members as means to drive the organization's legislative advocacy and community building activities, thereby creating a group considered to be a true reflection of the state's geographic diversity, officials announced earlier this week.
Now sitting as the vice chair as a result of the election is Thomas S. Connelly, a self-advocate from Albany. Connelly has been associated with the council since 2005, having been initially appointed by then-Gov. Sonny Perdue.
"It is very much an honor to be elected," Connelly said of his most recent appointment. "I am one of the more senior members, so I hope to share my experiences with newer members."
Last month, the 26-member body of the GCDD established new leadership by electing two executive officers and three members at-large. Mitzi Proffitt, parent advocate from the Statesboro area, is the chairwoman and the other executive officer.
Josette Akhras, parent advocate from Eatonton; Geneice McCoy, parent advocate from Augusta; and Lisa Newbern, advisory parent advocate from Atlanta, have been elected to serve as the three members at large.
"As Gov. Deal's nine new appointments came aboard this year, we took the opportunity to renew our commitment to our purpose and values and select new leadership," GCDD Executive Director Eric E. Jacobson said in a news release. "After having worked closely with them over two quarters and two council meetings, there is remarkable energy and focus in this group. I'm looking forward to continued excellence and exciting new ideas being generated over the coming years."
The GCDD is one of 55 federally funded, independent state agencies in the United States that has provided advocacy for more than 40 years for 1.7 million Georgians with developmental disabilities and their families, officials say.
One of the outreach methods the GCDD utilizes is its Real Communities Initiative, which works to connect people with developmental disabilities and their organizations to other citizens and their associations to act collectively on community issues while being guided by asset-based community development principles and GCDD values to create real positive changes, build strong bridges, create a sustainable model of community-based family support and learn about how to make real changes, the organization's website says.
"I would like to see this expanded into Albany during my time as vice chair," Connelly said. "... Albany and Southwest Georgia is an underserved area. I want to increase (awareness among) people with disabilities (and let them know that they) are more valued members of the community."
During the month of June, meetings are being held throughout the state to give interested parties an overview of how Real Communities works and how communities can get involved. The Albany meeting has been set for 9 a.m.-5 p.m. on June 17 at the Albany Advocacy Resource Center at 3005 Old Dawson Road.
"It's an honor to chair this organization, which is at the forefront of social and policy change for people with disabilities in Georgia and beyond," Proffitt said in a news release following the recent appointments. "Because at least 60 percent of our members either have a developmental disability or a family member (who) does, this is a knowledgeable, caring and passionate group."
Connelly is a rehabilitation employment specialist for the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency. He serves on the Albany ARC board and is a member of Georgia Rehabilitation Association. He earned a bachelor's degree from Belmont Abbey College and a master's degree from Fort Valley State University.
Also serving on the council from the Albany area is Teresa Heard, director of nursing and clinical services for Easter Seals Southern Georgia and a parent advocate.