Georgia Options is a local nonprofit organization that provides care and companionship to over forty men and women in the Athens region who suffer from an array of mental disabilities. Georgia Options first began in 1992 by a few local families and similar advocates who were concerned with the way people with disabilities were living in the community. Since then, they have helped well over a hundred different individuals through their own unique style of care.
I visited Georgia Options earlier this week and got to sit down with Lindsey York, one of the head directors at the local nonprofit. We discussed the Athens organization, and in particular, how they’re helping their members in and around the city of Athens.
Joey: How is Georgia Options different from other groups that work with mentally impaired individuals in Athens?
Lindsey: Georgia Options stands by itself in the way we structure our care towards our members. You’ll find that most organizations similar to us in Athens and around Northeast Georgia look to bring their members to a centralized location commonly known as a group home. We at Georgia Options are completely decentralized, traveling around the region to the homes of the members we serve. We let them live wherever they wish to live, with the obvious restraints being personal affordability. We want our members to make as many personal decisions as possible. These decisions can be anything from what they want to watch on TV during the day, or where in Athens they want to go eat that night. Our companions, those who work first hand with those in need, don’t wear name tags or any type of coordinated uniforms. We try to make their life as mainstream as possible with all their actions being carried out by what they want to do, not because it is practical or convenient for their companions looking after them. We want our members to interact in and throughout Athens, just as any other Athenian would. Our companions are only there to ensure the safety of our members, and to help them with everyday tasks they might find to troublesome.
Joey: What are the biggest challenges in running Georgia Options?
Lindsey: From what I see as a coordinator, the foremost challenge Georgia Options deals with is in receiving Medicaid waivers for our members who don’t already possess one. The overall process in receiving a Medicaid waiver warrants a lot of time, and presents confusing obstacles and hoops to jump through. In addition, the one on one treatment we present to our members with our companions requires a tricky balance. As I mentioned earlier, we are the only ones in our field that work with our members in their own homes, making the selection for viable candidates difficult. Lastly, the way the Medicare and Medicaid systems work in the state presents problems for our members in finding suitable doctors and psychiatrists who are covered under their insurance. These doctors are crucial to the overall well-being of our members on a day to day basis.
Lindsey: We just had our first fundraiser in more than ten years this past October 5th. We had a Family Fun 5k Run on Broad Street where we had more than fifty people show up to help raise money for Georgia Options. In addition, Georgia Options has traditionally done a lot of work with the University of Georgia. We have had interns and volunteers from UGA come to Georgia Options to serve specific academic needs in the schools of Education; Family and Consumer Sciences; and Social and Nonprofit work. Many of our members travel to UGA to take part in physical education classes at the Ramsey Center, as well as speech therapy classes through the school. In 2012 the former Miss Georgia, Emily Clark, with some of her fellow members of the UGA Women’s Law Association voluntarily backed cakes for the members we served. A handful of our employees work with local community programs like Meals on Wheels, and The Northeast Georgia Poverty and Homeless Coalition. What’s more, many Georgia Options members have laced up their sneakers and taken part in numerous athletic events held by the Athens Special Olympics Group.
Joey: Where would you like to see the organization in ten years or so?
Lindsey: I’d love to see Georgia Options serve a much wider range of people throughout the state, as well as those already living in the Athens area who aren’t already being served. We are also interested in involving Georgia Options in some way with the local schools in the Athens community. I’d also like for us to join forces with other nonprofits and groups around Athens to hold more fundraising events.
Joey: On behalf of Representative Frye, I’d like to sincerely thank you for agreeing to sit with me and shed some light on the great work Georgia Options is doing for our community. Thank you for your service and thank you for your time.
If you’d like to learn more about Georgia Options, you can visit their website at www.georgiaoptions.org
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