THE HISTORY OF EASTERSEALS SOUTHERN GEORGIA
On the night of March 16, 1941, Mr. and Mrs. Carl Huie raced against time to carry their daughter, Carlton, to Dr. Lawson Thorton and his orthopedic team at Piedmont Hospital. This was the beginning of the eight-year treatment for Carlton, with only a few trips away periodically. Mrs. Huie made a vow that nothing would stop her until she had activated a rehabilitation center in Albany to serve people with disabilities in southwest Georgia.
By listening and talking to those knowledgeable on rehabilitation centers, things began to crystallize in 1948. In 1948, 1949 and 1950, Mr. and Mrs. Huie went before every woman’s group in Albany and wrote hundreds of letters to service groups in southwest Georgia outlining the need for a center and asking for help. The Junior League of Albany wonderfully and wholeheartedly took on the sponsorship of this group and worked towards the establishment of a center.
It was in 1954 that the Devane Home was rented and later purchased. In 1957 a program director for the Georgia Easter Seal Society was employed and her first assignment was to equipt, staff and direct the program in Albany. The center opened on the 25th of November 1957.
Open house was held on the afternoon of February 2, 1958 and in July, the first Southwest Georgia Amputee Clinic was held. In 1959 the first parent group was formed. During the years prior to 1960 many volunteers gave their time to help.
The Easter Seal Guild was formed on November 21, 1961 with 25 charter members present. From that day forward until its dissolution in the 1990’s, the Guild members provided the volunteer assistance needed at the center for health, education and welfare of the many people with disabilities.
Assisting the Guild members over the years were students, Girl Scouts, and the members of the Albany Debutante Club. The many civic organizations, especially the Junior League and the Charity League, also provided voluntary help and monetary assistance to the center.
In 1965 a pledge of $5,000 for the Easterseal Rehabilitation Center was made by the Badgely Trust. This pledge was for a new Easterseal Center Building. In March of 1967 a six acre tract on Palmyra Road was acquired for the proposed facility and plans were formulated for a fund drive. The present center on 4th Avenue had become inadequate. A goal of $185,000 was set and was to be matched by federal Hill-Burton funds. The approximate cost of the center was estimated at $456,000. Ground was broken on January 13, 1970 for the new center.
An aggressive fund raising effort supported the center’s medical rehabilitation programs. No one was denied services due to inability to pay. Teas, concerts, rock-a-thons, telethons, auctions and tournaments were the more traditional events. A creative venture that proved lucrative for the society was the “Truck Bog-In.” Citizens of all ages were involved in the agency’s activities. The center maintains scrapbooks of all media releases from the 1950’s to the present. Easterseals Southern Georgia, Inc. has served over 70,000 people since its beginning.
THE EARLY GROWTH YEARS
The main focus of Easterseals continued to be medical rehabilitation. In addition to physical therapy services, speech and audiology services were provided. A stoke “club”, which provided information and peer support, was established. Activities of daily living and occupational therapy services became a major component. The staff grew from the original physical therapist, director and consulting orthopedic surgeon to a corps of 12 full time staff.
In 1982, as a result of combined efforts of the Albany Association of Retarded Citizens, local legislators and Easterseals Board members, the center received a contract through the Department of Human Resources Division of Rehabilitation Services to provide vocational rehabilitation services. A new 9,975 square foot building was constructed for office, work adjustment training and sheltered workshop activities. Staff increased proportionally to a high of 30 in 1987. Some 1,873 individual clients were served in 1983. Even when a large for-profit corporate rehabilitation center opened next door in 1987, Easterseals held it’s own as 1988 figures note 1,106 people served.
Funding from foundations, contracts and local community efforts supported the activities of the agency. The National Easterseals Telethon produced with a local station continued to be a primary source of revenue. New events included a junior high school sweetheart dance, a country music show and city coupon book sales. Spell-a-thon, a program, which involved elementary age children, was instituted in schools. Across the region, from the Ben Hill County Gospel sing to the Bass Tournament at Lake Blackshear, citizens of all ages and cultural backgrounds worked to support services for people with disabilities.
In 1990, the Georgia Easter Seal Society was dissolved and Easterseals Southern Georgia became a direct affiliate of the National organization. The flexibility and autonomy provided by the change has allowed the agency to rapidly respond to the region’s diverse and changing needs.
DIVERSIFICATION AND EXPANSION
Easterseals Southern Georgia, Inc. during the 1990’s grew to be multi-faceted and even more responsive to the needs of its region. The traditional medical rehabilitation services continued, however, the concentration became school contracts and amputee services. In 1998 the program was discontinued as community needs for therapy services were being adequately met by regional hospital outpatient therapy services and home health agencies.
Vocational services expanded to include vocational evaluations, job readiness, mobility training, specific skills training, job coaching, supported employment as well as other individualized services. Community based work adjustment services were expanded and high school special education students became involved through transition services designed in collaboration with both the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency, Department of Behavioral Health and local school system special education teachers. Sub-contract work through relationships with local industry provides opportunities for adults with disabilities to develop good work habits, learn specific skills and earn wages in a more structured setting. During the past year, Easterseals has seen this program expand exponentially, moving into the 14 county North Florida region as well as eastward into Wayne, McIntosh, Glynn and other border Georgia counties.
In 1995 a specialized program for people with traumatic brain injury was begun through funds from the Division of Rehabilitation Services. Not all referrals needed vocational services, however, so the “Pathways” program was developed in 1996. This program is designed to provide a structured day for people with brain and spinal cord injury. It includes daily living skills, academics, computer skills, leisure/recreational opportunities as well as social interaction. The program was funded through the United Way of Southwest Georgia and donations until its closure.
Children and adults with disabilities from the region were provided scholarships to Camp ASCCA-Easter Seals, Camp Arrow, Camp Big Heart and a variety of day camping experiences sponsored by the YMCA, recreation departments and others. Funds were provided by civic groups, fundraising activities and the respite care program. This program continues into the present day with over 40 partnerships with community organizations to ensure inclusive camping experiences across the state.
The Respite Care/Family Support program was initiated in 1993 through an appropriation from the Georgia General Assembly. The first year, 38 children and adults received services. Respite care provides short-term relief to caregivers of people with intellectual/developmental disabilities through in-home or out-of-home care. Family support serves as the payer of last resort for disability related items. Families are able to obtain nutritional supplements, adaptive clothing and equipment as well as financial assistance with ramps and wheelchair lifts. When funding for the program was expanded statewide, Easter Seals became the broker of these services for three regions. The Southwest Georgia Region included funds for children with severe emotional disturbances and adults with mental illness as the years progressed. In 2000 new funds to serve children and adults with autism were received and partnerships were forged with a variety of community agencies for the provision of summer enrichment programs. The family support program continued to expand to become the largest program in Georgia. The Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities awarded Easterseals Southern Georgia additional funds to pilot and intensive family support program for rural Georgia in 2015. In addition, an office was opened in Savannah to manage the growing caseload with approached 1500 in 2015.
In response to a growing need for out of home respite care for children, Easterseals made a leap of faith and opened its first “Megan’s House.” Families caring for children with disabilities and those who were medically fragile were able to access care for their loved ones in a safe, stimulating, cozy environment that provided nursing oversight and well trained compassionate staff. Children could access care for 24 hours up to a maximum of two weeks. The initial Albany home was so successful that in 2006, the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities provided start up funds for a second home in Waycross and Congressman Sanford Bishop provided federal funds in 2009 for a third home in Valdosta, GA. To date, these homes have served over 1000 children.
Following the changes in federal requirements the Katie Beckett or Deeming Waiver that resulted in the loss of services for over 1600 Georgia children with special needs, the Georgia Legislature appropriated funding to assist these families. Funds were channeled to the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta and after focus groups and surveys with impacted families a Request for Proposal was issued for what was called the “Champions for Children” program. The requirements for the program were very much in line with Easterseals existing family support program. Our affiliate joined with the other 4 Easterseals affiliates in Georgia to form a coalition and was successfully awarded this funding. The “Champions” program is the only statewide initiative operated by the coalition and allowed for two affiliates to begin a children’s service line. The program met or exceeded every established benchmark and was awarded new funding from the legislature and the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities to ensure sustainability. Now in its ninth year of operation, the Champions program has more than doubled the number of children projected to benefit from the service.
The “Kids Are Riding Safe” program was implemented through assistance from Easterseals, Inc. and provided adaptive car seats to five area hospitals for use with special needs children. Easterseal staff provided training for hospital pediatric personnel, early intervention coordinators and others working with children. Funding was provided early on by the Georgia Health Foundation and Allstate. Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital was a partner in this project as well as Sumter Regional, Tift Regional, Crisp Regional, South Georgia Medical Center and Bainbridge.
In 1993 Easterseals began an independent living program for adults with physical disabilities in collaboration with the Albany ARC. The Independent Care Waiver provided funds for this pilot project which supports people in their own apartments with assistance from personal care attendants and companions.
Funding was obtained from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development and in 1996 two newly constructed group homes for people with developmental disabilities opened their doors in Dooly County. Additional grants were awarded in 1994 for a group home in Tifton and a ten-unit apartment complex in Ashburn. Easterseals began construction of an eight-unit apartment complex in Moultrie in June 2000 and were full with a waiting list within 2 weeks of completion. Once communities see the homes and understand both the economic impact as well as the quality of life aspect for local families these programs are embraced. Easterseal continues to receive requests for HUD residential development and were awarded funds in 1999 for a group home in Cordele and an apartment complex in Cairo. Residences became operational in 2002. Senators Golden, Ragan and Bowen secured start-up funds for these projects through the Georgia General Assembly. A six-unit apartment complex was funded in 2001 for the Valdosta area and opened its doors in 2003. HUD funding was awarded in 2003 for the construction of apartments in Waycross. This six unit complex opened its doors in 2006. All residences are wheelchair accessible and contain roll in showers, open sinks, lowered light switches, grab bars and reinforced bathroom walls, wider doors with appropriate hardware and no-step entrances. The Mitchell-Baker Association for Retarded Citizens approached Easterseals Southern Georgia regarding the management of their newly purchased group home in Pelham. A mutual agreement was reached and the home opened its doors to three young men in 2006. The Carlisle family approached the City of Camilla with interest in donating their home. Because of the public awareness efforts by Easterseals concerning the need for residential services, the City asked Easterseals to become involved. The property was transferred as a gift to our organization valued at $90,000. After a successful capital campaign which included USDA low interest loan funds, a Tull Foundation grant and community donations, this new group home opened in 2008. In August of 2009, Mr. Mike Mauzy donated his personal residence in Jesup to Easterseals for use as a group home for men. Many local civic groups, churches and citizens assisted in the furnishing and equipping of this wonderful addition to Wayne County.
Easterseals Southern Georgia has been a major player in the transition of medically fragile individuals from state institutions into community placements. Working with the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, residents were identified, transition plans were developed and two new group homes were opened in Valdosta to accommodate this initiative that was a result of the Department of Justice Settlement Agreement. Easterseals has watched the amazing progess made by its residents as they learn new skills, encounter new opportunities and experience the joys of community inclusion. Host homes were also utilized in this program.
The most non-traditional Easterseals program-the Juvenile Justice Early Intervention Project, began in 1993 with a four county pilot funded by the Governor’s Children and Youth Coordinating Council. Its initial success was so overwhelming that the program quickly grew to 14 counties. Aimed at first time offenders and “at risk” youth, the Juvenile Justice program used a structured curriculum to teach responsible behavior and life skills. Funding from the Council, Regional Boards, county and city government and donations kept the program operational until key staff were lured away to manage larger community projects. The program received numerous accolades during its existence. The JJEIP was years ahead of its time!
At the request of the Mitchell County Commission on Children and Youth, Easterseals assumed the management of the Child Care Center. Grant funds were obtained from the Georgia Child Care Council to provide scholarships for children with disabilities. This venture continued as a collaborative with Department of Public Health Early Intervention Services, the Mitchell County Special Education program, Substance Abuse Woman’s program, the Housing Authority and Department of Family and Children’s Services until June of 1998.
In the fall of 1995, Easterseals joined with “AmeriCorp” to begin an afterschool and summer enrichment program for Sumter County children with disabilities. “Friends Who Care”, a disability awareness curriculum, was taught to typical children and the program was highly successful in addressing unmet needs in this community. In 1997 the program expanded into Dooly and Crisp counties and has touched the lives of over 500 children since its beginning. As state funds are now readily available to school systems for this type of effort, Easterseals discontinued the program in 1999.
A peer support network was established in the summer of 1996 and serves a 24 county area. Peer counselors (individuals with physical disabilities) provided information, referral, advocacy, resource development and networking opportunities to other people with disabilities to ensure identified needs were met and personal goals accomplished. This program was discontinued when a state policy decision moved the funding to the Independent Living Centers in Georgia.
The underlying strength of Easterseals has always been its ability to respond quickly to the unmet needs within its region. Since 1993 the numbers of children and adults served annually have grown from 336 to over 3000. Programs are piloted in response to the needs in individual communities and discontinued when the need is met successfully in other ways. The development of the Easterseals Adult Day Programs (Solutions) is a perfect example of how this has effectively worked. Consumers and families requested a new, more community based model from the existing day centers operating in various counties. Within a short period of time, centers were opened in Dooly, Crisp, Tift , Dougherty, Lee and Thomas Counties. The approach used by Easterseals ensures that people with developmental disabilities experience valued roles in the community by providing services and training that support individual choices and opportunities. Lower staff/participant ratios allow for maximum community engagement. Focus areas for the program include: community exploration, communication, social interaction, self-help and daily living skills, recreation and leisure activities, job sampling and work experience and self-advocacy training.
The flexibility and responsiveness of Easterseals Southern Georgia, coupled with financial stewardship makes our organization the logical recipient for significant donated dollars from the community. Over $160,000 was donated during the FY 15 year.
A committed volunteer Board of Directors provides the responsible governance required by such a multi-faceted organization. Representatives from the financial, legal, business, medical, political and social service arenas are actively involved in planning and oversight. In addition, each HUD residential project has a local Board of Directors whose involvement in the lives of Easterseal consumers opens doors throughout their respective communities. Although Easterseals has worked diligently to spread the word, we continue to remain a well-kept secret. While we are proud to over 3000 children and adults with disabilities, there are over thousands of people with significant disabilities residing in our region. There is much work to be done.