LOWNDES COUNTY, Ga. (WTXL) — In south Georgia, there's a safe haven for those with intellectual disabilities and their families that, despite the pandemic, vows to continue serving the community.
"It gives our folks a quality of life with their peers that they would not have with the public," said Dr. Harry Hamm, the executive director of The Lowndes Advocacy Resource Center.
In March, COVID-19 shut down another critical non-profit in Valdosta, The Lowndes Advocacy Resource Center or LARC, leaving more than 100 people with disabilities with nowhere to go, work or socialize.
"We were shocked at having to shut down because we weren't expecting that," Hamm said.
After the shutdown, many parents found themselves caring for their adult children at home full time, and weren't able to work.
"They didn't have us and the families can't just leave, and leave them home alone," said Hamm.
LARC reopened in May with new safety guidelines in place, including temperature checks, supervised hand-washing stations, and social distancing.
"We have every level of intellectual disability here," Hamm said. "Some are very willing to wear their masks and understand the necessity and others you can't force the mask on them. We are especially careful with those people making sure they are at least six feet apart at all times."
Before COVID-19, LARC averaged about 117 people a day in their programs. Many are employed in the non-profit's cardboard recycling plant or one of the manufacturing jobs LARC offers.
Now, Dr. Hamm says the people in the program are slowly coming back, but demand is high.
"We are notifying the families now," Hamm said. "They need to come back or they may lose their slot because other programs, like LARC, also closed but they have not reopened."
The pandemic had a major impact on the state's revenue, and Dr. Hamm says 60 percent of LARC's state funding was cut.
Their focus now is on exploring financial options to keep providing for the people who need them the most.
"These individuals and the instructors at the facility care about these people as if they were their own family, so it's like an extended family to all of them," said Lisa Noyes, whose son attends LARC. "It's a wonderful place. Not only do they have work; they have a social network. It's all-inclusive. It's awesome."
LARC is always looking for cardboard donations from the community for its cardboard recycling plant that employs many of the people who attend LARC.
They also appreciate financial donations. For more information click here.