Organizations work together in Washington County
People work together in rural communities. Sometimes, it’s because they want to. At other times, working together is a must.
Every now and then, people take it a step further and create organizations to serve the community by working to alleviate problems. When these organizations partner and collaborate with others, their value to the community multiplies.
Three Washington County organizations know what it means to serve people and support each other to make a greater impact. These organizations are the Wilcox Gallery, the Arc of Southwest Alabama, and Hope Outdoors.
Wilcox Foundation and Gallery
One Washington County native and world traveler, Edith Wilcox, loved to bring home the treasures she accumulated in various countries. She used her collections to create a gallery and foundation in Chatom to share the international items she cherished with her neighbors.
She passed away in 2011, leaving the foundation to her daughter, Susan Turner, with the instructions, “Do good.” Turner took that message to heart, remembering how involved her mother had been in the community. She then decided to use the gallery to emphasize arts, education and Christian principles.
Turner, Alicia Atcheson, Jackie Davidson, Jordan Anne Garner, Regina Hill, and Carolyn Reynolds, who work with the gallery, host many events including piano lessons, Shakespearean plays, painting sessions, musical performances, galas and more around Washington County.
Turner and the crew enjoy the events that provide a chance to show support to other organizations the most. One such event is “Fashion with a Cause,” a fashion show that raises awareness and money for different organizations.
The first two fashion shows spotlighted the issue of human trafficking. Inspired by an encounter close to home, they used the shows to bring attention to the fact that human trafficking is not limited to big cities.
After the first two successful “Fashion with a Cause” events, workers at the Wilcox Gallery turned their attention to two local organizations. The third fashion show supported ECI, now called The Arc of Southwest Alabama. In the event, participants were given the chance to walk the runway and increase awareness and support for this nonprofit.
The next fashion show they are planning will bring awareness to Hope Outdoors. Turner and others at the Wilcox Gallery work hard to honor these organizations and the work they do for people in the community. What’s even more important is how these organizations support each other, working together to expand their impact.
The Arc of Southwest Alabama
The mission of The Arc of Southwest Alabama began in the 1970s, under the acronym ECI. Dr. Claire Ramsey started Exceptional Children Incorporated to support children with special needs. Over time, as special needs services were expanded to adults, the organizations name changed to the Educational Center for Independence, as selected by people served by the agency.
In 2016, Jessica Odom became director of ECI. Her first task was to become part of The Arc of the United States. Odom explained, “As a chapter of The Arc, we become part of an established national family that advocates locally and nationally for the people it serves.” She said, “The Arc has a loud voice in the state and country for people with disabilities, advocating for their rights, independence and more equal treatment in communities.”
Employees of The Arc of Southwest Alabama support those served and work toward individualized goals. Working with people on the Medicaid ID Waiver who live in Washington County, have an IQ below 70, and a psychological evaluation before and after the age of 18 that indicates an intellectual disability, they provide support in many ways.
Each individual and their support network meet with a qualified developmental disability professional to discuss security, community, relationships, choices and goals, most of which people without disabilities take for granted.
Staff at The Arc help with ensuring individuals are safe. Those who are not able to stay safe at home can live in the group home or in one of the apartments with support provided as needed. The Agency strives to meet other needs and to help individuals find jobs, (or other meaningful activities) and save and budget money.
Odom explained that one of the most important services provided to the people served is to support their involvement in the world around them. Of course, each person can choose whether they want to be a part of community activities. Some may choose to stay in or attend classes, in which there are “sensory spaces” set aside for individuals who need a quieter environment.
Other options for community engagement are provided through recreational events such as group trips. One such community event was walking the runway for the Wilcox Foundation and Gallery’s “Fashion with a Cause” event.
Other activities include trips to the library or to local restaurants. They may also attend events such as Lunch and Learns provided by the Alabama A&M and Auburn Extension, local celebrations such as the Mardi Gras parade or Independence Day gathering, pep rallies, Hope Outdoors events and even events in other areas of the country such as Special Olympics.
Hope Outdoors is a ministry who has worked with The Arc and is next to be spotlighted by the Wilcox Foundation and Gallery. This organization unofficially began in 2004 when a young man without functioning kidneys went to Chuck Reynold’s camp in Tibbie with a desire to deer hunt. Reynolds and his family, who worked the camp alongside him, enjoyed hosting the young man and his family so much, they decided to expand the next year.
In 2005, Reynolds, Glenn and Karen Sansing, and Larry Hubbard, director of the local chapter, decided to form the nonprofit and make such hunts an annual event. With help from Buckmasters out of Montgomery, the group was given access to a database of individuals with special needs so they could be invited to hunt the next year.
Organizers wanted Hope Outdoors to be geared toward individuals with special needs and a ministry in which they could share their Christian faith with everyone involved. Hubbard said, “Not only are we helping the participant, but we are also helping people to plug in, love on people and help them.”
The team also cares about supporting the family. Hope Outdoors events are a source of respite for caregivers who are working with their loved ones 24/7.
Hope Outdoors has taken off thanks to support from churches, volunteers, landowners and others. Since opening the ministry in 2005, Hope Outdoors has expanded to 19 chapters in six states: Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee.
Individuals invited to hunt or fish are accepted on a case by case basis. According to Glenn Sansing, they accept people whose “conditions may be as extensive as end stage ALS, or terminal cancer, to children who may have lost a parent and just need some extra attention. Reynolds added, “We’ve hunted with people 6 years old to 90 years old.”
With the different chapters of Hope Outdoors, some events differ for youth and adults. “Others are specific to fishing: inshore fishing, redfish and speckled trout, or fishing events at local ponds,” Glenn Sansing said. He added that there are events for hunting specific animals such as “turkey, deer, duck, hog, and squirrel.”
Hope Outdoors accommodates every participant at no charge. Individuals are able to utilize specialized equipment like track wheelchairs or the HQ 100 shooting device that can be operated by mouth.
Karen Sansing said, “Participants are assigned as many helpers or guides as needed for their specific situation.” However, the team also tries to have first responders or emergency on standby if needed.
With Hope Outdoors, there is truly something for everyone, and the team loves it that way. They diligently seek out people interested so that they can enjoy the opportunity to hunt and fish.
All of these organizations reach out to people with a desire to touch lives. The Wilcox Gallery’s focus on community helps people to make connections to others and become more engaged in organizations that matter.
The Arc of Southwest Alabama serves and advocates for the rights of people with intellectual disabilities. They have had heartwarming success stories in which they were able to help individuals with a host of situations.
Hope Outdoors gives people with varying conditions the chance to enjoy hunting and fishing. They are so passionate about what they do that they have carried bedridden people, who never thought they would hunt again, to hunting events.
The moral of the story is that each of these organizations can truly stand out on their own. However, it is their partnerships with each other that embody what it means to care and serve a community.
For more information on each organization visit the following sites:
The Arc of Southwest Alabama website.
By Melissa Dennis
Last Updated: July 03, 2019