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Volunteers needed at Hi-Hope Service Center

It is impossible to adequately express our appreciation for the five decades of support this community has given Hi-Hope Service Center. Your donations have been absolutely critical to our ability to continue improving the lives of people with developmental disabilities.

However, Hi-Hope is on the threshold of fundamental change, and we need something now as valuable as your financial support: We need your time.

As part of a nationwide effort, the state of Georgia is embracing a service philosophy called "self-determination," which emphasizes independence and choice for people with developmental disabilities. It represents the final step in deinstitutionalization and calls on communities to include people with disabilities, rather than segregate them in group training and housing settings.

One of the pillars in this service philosophy is something called "natural supports." Experts believe that if those with disabilities participate in the same activities, clubs and organizations everyone else enjoys, a network of natural supports will form around them to enhance, extend and even replace some of the services provided by centers like ours.

To prepare for this fundamental change, Hi-Hope's board and staff have taken steps to improve the quality of our facility-based services and to initiate community-based services beyond our walls. In both settings, our volunteer partnership is now vital.

In January, we launched a three-year Self-Determination of Services Project and with grant funds, hired several specialists who are working with our staff to custom-design services based on each person's needs.

Two early surprises in this process were how many budding artists we had among us and how many of our clients would like to learn to read.

So taking our cues from them, we are opening an art center at Hi-Hope and are planning to launch a literacy project.

The art center will be a working studio, and we hope most, if not all, of our clients will have the opportunity to participate in activities each week. However, our staff will need plenty of help, and that is where we hope you will respond.

We need artist mentors to work alongside our developing artists for three hours each month and additional volunteers who enjoy the creative process to help out four hours one day a week.

The art center also will have a new computer lab for teaching adaptive computer graphic arts and job-specific training. So if you have basic knowledge of computers or computer graphics, we have a place for you to volunteer.

The computer lab also will play an integral role in the literacy project. In addition to the assistive technology we already are using, Hi-Hope will be a test site for some newly developed Web-based literacy support for adults with disabilities.

Already, several of our clients are learning their way around the computer using specially adapted equipment and software. One exciting example of this use of technology is Aaron's story.

Aaron has learned how to use Photoshop, PowerPoint and a scanner. He then resizes images, edits text and records narration. This process is used to change children's books into digital format. Not only does this process improve Aaron's literacy skills, but he will also be helping others with the availability of these digital books. Volunteers are needed to assist with projects like this one.

To expand our community participation, we recently hired Donyetta Green as our activity director/community liaison. Her role is to establish and sustain meaningful relationships in the community by generating and developing activities outside the walls of Hi-Hope.

"Our clients want to be a part of the recreational and volunteer activities that the rest of the community enjoys - movies, bowling, festivals and sporting events - and importantly helping others in groups and individually: delivering meals on wheels, yard cleanup, and visiting residents in nursing homes, among many activities," Green said.

If you would like to volunteer, call Green at 770-963-8694.

"People Helping People" is a weekly column written by the executive directors of nonprofit organizations in Gwinnett County. Today's article was written by Alice B. Cunningham of Hi-Hope Service Center.

Need help or know someone who does? The Gwinnett Helpline directs callers to the appropriate nonprofit agency. Call 770-995-3339.