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Albany Advocacy Resource Center celebrates 50 years

Albany ARC has spent half a century working for people with disabilities

Greg Schmieg, executive director for the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency, was the speaker for the Albany Advocacy Resource Center annual awards banquet Tuesday. ARC, an advocacy agency for people with disablities, marks its 50th aniversary this year. Also pictured is Pam Doherty, a past Volunteer of the Year award winner with ARC. (Staff Photo: Jim West)

Greg Schmieg, executive director for the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency, was the speaker for the Albany Advocacy Resource Center annual awards banquet Tuesday. ARC, an advocacy agency for people with disablities, marks its 50th aniversary this year. Also pictured is Pam Doherty, a past Volunteer of the Year award winner with ARC. (Staff Photo: Jim West)

ALBANY — Albany ARC had good reasons to hold a banquet Tuesday evening. Not only were there plenty of deserving award recipients to be recognized at their 35th annual affair, but participants would celebrate a full half-century of ARC’s existence.

In a pre-banquet interview at the Hilton Garden Inn, event speaker Greg Schmieg, executive director for the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency, and Annette Bowling, ARC consultant and past agency director, talked about ongoing issues of people with disabilities and the ARC.

“I’ll start by talking about what things were like 50 years ago, in 1963,” Schmieg said. “You could buy a new car for $3,000. A gallon of gas was 29 cents and just 22 cents for a loaf of bread.

“The discouraging thing is that the unemployment rate for people with disabilities hasn’t changed that dramatically since 1963. That kind of puts in perspective the wonderful things the ARC has done, especially under Annette (Bowling’s) leadership, which has always been cutting edge.”

Bowling served for 40 years as executive director for Albany ARC (Advocacy Resource Center), now at 2616 Pointe North Boulevard, an agency advocate for people with disabilities. Susan Trueblood is the director of ARC, with Bowling serving in a consulting role. Bowling gives credit for her long-term success with ARC to its board of directors, who she said are uniquely suited to moving the organization ahead.

“My board of directors is made up of family members, individuals with disabilities, community leaders,” Bowling said. “It’s really the backbone of what we do. I’ve done the work, but I couldn’t have done it without them behind me and opening those doors.”

Bowling said she credits her husband, George, as well for his patience and understanding of her mission through the years. There were times, Bowling said, that when a disabled person got in “trouble” or was picked up by police, she brought them home with her until she could “get it figured out.”

Working for Standard Oil but tired of corporations, Bowling almost stumbled into ARC, she said, but discovered it was a proper “fit.” When she became director, she made it a point, she said, to visit every state hospital in Georgia to see for herself how people with physical and mental disabilities were treated. To her disgust, she found the hospitals to be nothing more than “warehouses” for the disabled, she said, where patients were controlled by hosing them with cold water and other harsh techniques.

“When I came back, I was fired up,” Bowling said. “I could see it was by the grace of God we weren’t in their shoes. I asked the board to work with me so that no parent would ever have to pay for a state hospital when they couldn’t meet the needs of their children. That’s been my goal and my mission.”

Later on in the event, Schmieg addressed an audience of around 400, beginning with his comparison of 1963 and 2013, then congratulating the agency, its staff, volunteers and supporting community for all the progress through the years.

“I congratulate you on leading the pack,” Schmieg said. “When I think about the future of rehabilitation, I believe we need to think differently about the way people with disabilities are served. We need to think of new ways. We need to be creative. We need to be on the cutting edge. When I think of ARC — you’ve already done that.

“You’re on the cutting edge all the time. We also need greater collaboration between the state and the private sector. ARC? you’ve already done that. On the cutting edge. There should be greater community and employer participation and there’s no place better in the state than Albany in terms of the community that supports service to people with disabilities.”

Awards presented at the banquet included Preschool Personal Achievement Award, Eric BeBruce; Volunteer of the Year, Gloria Smith; Outstanding Board Member, Dacia Harris; Collaborative Partner, Albany YMCA, Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency.

Community Service Awards were: Junior League of Albany; Deefield Windsor School, third-grade class; Jack & Jill Foundation Inc.; Home Builders Association of Albany and Southwest Georgia; MillerBrew Crew; American Legion Post 30, and Sam’s Club.

Faithful Service Awards were: Ernestine Smith — December 1999; Earlene Tinson — July 1999; Jessie Sheffield — April 1999; Inez Moultrie — December 1997; Dorothy McDonald — April 1996, and Betty Green — sometime in 1984.

Personal Consumer Achievement awards were given to Center for the Blind — Shawn Williams; Center for the Blind Older Blind — Janet Spinney; S.O.U.R.C.E. — Aquilla Thomas; Mental Health Program — Devanna Osbourne; T.A.P.P. Program — Eugene Crib; Project ARC — April Molley, Christine Gauldin; Autism Program — David Stewart; Adult Day — Gene Shiver; EmployAbility — Benjamin Brown; ICWP/DCH — Robert Reddick; Residential — Dennis King, Mary Ella Bush; Ray Carte’ Special Olympics Award — Todd Manley; Georgia Special Olympian for September — Antron Sheppard.

Miss Annette’s Shining Star awards were given to 126 recipients.