The Milledgeville Life Enrichment Center: A History of Change
By Emily McClure
The Milledgeville Life Enrichment Center (LEC) began in the late 1960s as a small group of community members and their parents who wanted to create a safe place for Milledgeville residents with intellectual disabilities to socialize.
This group called itself the Baldwin Association of Retarded Citizens and began meeting in the basement of a local church. At that time, society thought the only alternative for people with intellectual disabilities was institutionalization. Over the years, the center’s name evolved to the Baldwin Association of People with Developmental Disabilities, the Baldwin Service Center, and finally, the Life Enrichment Center.
“As our philosophy has evolved and social change has taken place, the name has evolved,” said LEC Director Barbara Coleman. “As we’ve changed, we’ve changed the look of the center.”
When Barbara Coleman became director in 1989, the center was still a typical day program. Although the clients participated in activities like fitness classes, their lives were segregated from the rest of the Milledgeville community.
As society became more aware and social change occurred, the LEC sought to integrate its clients’ lives with the local community. In the late 1990s, Coleman began partnering with a university in Milledgeville, Georgia College (GC). The first creative expression partnership between GC and the LEC occurred with the university’s music therapy department.
Over time, the LEC has been able to partner with service learning classes from various GC programs, including physical therapy, education and mass communication. Today, the center’s partnership with GC physical therapy means that LEC clients frequent BodyPlex Fitness in Milledgeville, where they meet up with their very own GC student personal trainers.
Another important partnership between GC and the LEC began through the GC Give Center’s Best Buddies program. Through Best Buddies, the LEC continued fulfilling its mission of creating individualized experiences for its clients and broadening their experiences by participating in activities in the community.
LEC clients and their best buddies attend fall festivals, play bocce ball together at Special Olympics, go bowling, and attend events at GC.
“The program is very focused on friendship visits and building that relationship with individuals with developmental disabilities,” said Kendall Stiles, GC Give Center director. “Those folks are just are just looking to make friends, and just like you, they like to go to the movies, go out to eat, go swimming, and go to the basketball game.”
In 2016, the LEC wrote and received a federal grant to form the Creative Enrichment Center (CEC), an after-hours program at the LEC focusing on fostering creative expression through art projects, music programs and field trips, two Tuesdays and one weekend a month.
LEC client Amy Mathis’s mother, Carol Mathis, said the LEC provides Amy with more opportunities for socialization in the community than did the day support program Amy previously attended when she lived in north Atlanta.
“They have so much going on that it’s hard to keep up with everything they do,” Mathis said with a chuckle. “It has made her more social and made her horizons broaden.”
Coleman said that today, her main goal for the LEC is to show the surrounding community the abilities of people with disabilities.
“Don’t think that a person’s cognitive ability dictates their ability to feel, their ability to empathize, or their ability to reach out, their ability to embrace you,” Coleman said. “When I started looking at the world through their eyes, I started realizing that we’re all more alike than different.”