While most of us run through our days trying to complete a never-ending to do list, chances are we have some free time in there somewhere. What we do with that free time, however, could be life changing, for ourselves and for others.
When Millie Turner retired from banking a couple of years ago, she knew sitting home day after day was not going to work for her. So when she was approached about serving as a volunteer with Albany Advocacy Resource Center (AARC), she knew that was her answer.
Today, she volunteers once a week, sometimes twice, at the Albany ARC Adult Day/Independent Living Program, helping people with disabilities tackle a variety of life skills, from balancing checkbooks and housekeeping tasks to personal hygiene and clothing care.
“I thought maybe I could give something back to the community this way,” said Turner. “Funny how God works; instead of me teaching them, they teach me love, understanding and patience.”
Turner said certain consumers, AARC’s name for the physically and mentally challenged people they serve, have specific goals during the time they spend at the center, and she is there to help them meet those goals. From working on math skills and learning to write checks to spelling and reading improvement, she is there to help.
And Turner is not alone. Others volunteer regularly at AARC as well, including April Everett, a hair professional with Fusion Salon & Spa, who began cutting ARC consumers’ hair over a year ago. Everett dedicates one Monday per month – her off day from the salon – to cutting hair free of charge for 10 to 20 consumers.
“I’ve always wanted to give back,” said Everett. “I’m blessed to have a great career. I can’t give all my clients free service, but I wanted to give back in some way.
“It’s an extreme blessing to be able to give to these consumers. They really appreciate it.”
The Day Center is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. Not only does it give the consumers somewhere to go and an opportunity to learn and interact with others, it also provides some relief for their caregivers, said Lou Johnson, community resource coordinator for AARC, who served for years as a volunteer before joining the staff a few years ago.
“It gives all these people a purpose and a wonderful life that they wouldn’t have without it,” she said regarding the center. “I live and breathe it.”
Today, AARC serves more than 1,000 consumers, about 50 of which attend the day program, enjoying leisure activities along with learning life skills such as grooming and cooking. Some arrive by city bus that drops them off just across a side street from the front door, and others are dropped off by their caregivers.
“They would be so miserable and bored,” without this program, said Kaycee Gilliard, director of the day program. “It’s very important for them. It teaches independence and living skills that enable them to live out on their own.”
Some AARC consumers live on their own in apartments, with financial assistance from the organization to meet their needs. Others live in one of five group homes and two apartment complexes operated by AARC. Additional housing is currently under construction to meet the growing needs, she added.
Many AARC consumers are active in Special Olympics, another area where volunteers are invaluable, said Gilliard. “With Special Olympics, we couldn’t do anything without our volunteers. And without the volunteers, many of our clients couldn’t get the services they enjoy. It’s the friendship they gain through our volunteers that is so special.”
AARC is headed by Annette Bowling, who began working with the organization in 1974, when few services were available in the Albany area for people with disabilities. Since then, working hand in hand with other providers, AARC has grown to offer a wide variety of services, including early intervention, pre-school, autism care and job placement programs. In addition, they offer services for parolees and a mental health court.
With the support of a strong board, as well as volunteers offering everything from time and money to clothing and furniture, the dedicated staff of AARC continues to serve this special population. For more information, call (229) 888-6852 or visit them online at www.albanyarc.org.
K.K. Snyder is a freelance writer and editor based in the Albany area. With over 20 years
in the industry, she writes for a number of magazines and newspapers around the country and
has published hundreds of articles, with topics ranging from travel and real estate to art
and personality profiles. In addition, she is the author of Frommer’s Atlanta travel guidebook,
which she rewrites every two years.