Albany Advocacy Resource Center
Before the Albany Advocacy Resource Center (ARC) got its start more than 40 years ago, many Georgia children born with mental and physical disabilities faced a future spent largely in state institutions, away from their families and the lively, active environments most children take for granted.
In the early 1960s, a group of Dougherty County parents of children with disabilities banded together to address that issue. The agency they created has become a model - in Georgia and across the country - for integrating the mentally and physically disabled into the greater community.
When executive director Annette Bowling joined the ARC in 1974, the agency focused its efforts on teaching children with disabilities, who were then being allowed to attend public schools for the first time ever thanks to a federal law passed the year before. As the kids they served grew up, however, it became clear that new services were needed.
"We started asking ourselves, what happens when their parents pass away and can no longer take care of their children? They didn't want to send them to an institution - their children went to church, to school, they went everywhere in the community - so they wanted them to remain a part of the community," she says.
In response, the ARC began offering supervised living apartments and group homes as part of its mix of services; additional offerings for those with spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries came later. "It's all about teaching independent skills, so they can live more independently," Bowling says.
Through the years, the organization's mission has grown as it has reached out to more of the disabled in Albany and the 13 surrounding counties (it serves about 1,100 people with disabilities today). Added programs include TAPP, which helps combat prisoner recidivism by providing transitional assistance for parolees and probationers, and SOURCE, which offers health care management for elderly as well as disabled Medicaid recipients.
ARC programs have drawn the attention of notables such as Christopher Reeve, who visited Albany to dedicate a group home called the House of Hope, built specifically to be fully accessible for the disabled. "I usually get a group of people coming for a visit and wanting to do what we're doing almost two or three times a month," Bowling says.
She credits the organization's board of directors for encouraging her and the staff to spread the word about their work. "They've helped me be available statewide to help [other cities] develop what we're doing in Albany in other areas of the state," she says. "Because we feel that if we can go out and help someone else duplicate what we've got, it certainly is a win-win for everybody."