Developmentally disabled adults in North Georgia who receive Medicaid waivers and other state funding for housing, food and daily living expenses are giving back to the community in an unusual way as a Gainesville-based program expands. They are making something from nothing.
Overseeing the group is Denise Eller, who runs the DreamWeavers program at Avita Community Partners, a community service board serving North Georgians with mental illness, developmental disabilities and addictive diseases. Denise has been working with the developmentally disabled for over 20 years. Avita provides outpatient mental health services and transportation to and from Avita for the group's members.
The Dreamweavers meet weekly to twice weekly to do group activities that range from making art projects for women's and children's organizations, participating in fund-raising and community walks to coming up with ways to help members of the community. At the same time, they're learning social skills to better communicate. They recently were asked by a local pastor if they could help a young couple that needed a washer and dryer. They pooled their own money and chipped in to buy one for the couple. Eller facilitates the groups to share ideas and carry out community-service projects.
As a result of the success of Dreamweavers in Gainesville, other counties have reached out and asked how they could get a similar program going in their communities, including Hart and Stephens counties. Developmentally disabled adults from Toccoa, Carnesville and Hartwell have all come to spend the day and work on owl dreamcatchers, made of old wool sweaters and dryer lint for stuffing. They made 10 together and returned to their own communities to give them as gifts to children's organizations.
As a result of their work, they have participated in an international peace walk, recently were involved in a play with Piedmont College students about themselves, made tie-dye T-shirts for Jennifer Aniston, Alan Alda and others on the set in the movie, "Wanderlust," that was filmed in North Georgia, and participated in the Learning Center's Good to Great Conference last month in Athens. They also have contributed to international causes, such as the earthquakes in Haiti, through Heifer International.
In the 13 years they have been in existence, they have more than doubled their membership from 11 to 30. One of the hallmarks of the group is that they construct art projects out of discarded materials from old wool sweaters to bamboo twigs to discarded pet food bags. Lining the walls of the facility where they work are tin men made of discarded aluminum cans, a huge teepee, grocery bags made from pet food bags and handmade rugs.
"We're all about making something from nothing, in an environmentally friendly way," says Eller, citing the group's teepee constructed from wild-growing bamboo and the homemade paper matted from dryer lint. "Many people look at our group as individuals who need help. Our message is that we are people who can help you."
Avita also helps the group with employment. Sonja McCahy does light cleaning at a funeral home. A job coach oversees the work and helps facilitate. Others work at Piedmont College and movie theaters.