A visual impairment at birth has never stopped Christina Holtzclaw from living a productive life focused on helping others with disabilities. Holtzclaw serves as Executive Director for the Northwest Georgia Center for Independent Living. She started with the NWGA CIL in 2004, when it was known as disABILITY LINK NW.
The native Roman was one of the first blind students to enroll in the Floyd County School System, coming through the Model schools. “I know there was a discussion of whether to send me to the Macon Academy for the Blind, but my parents, of course, wanted me at home,” Holtzclaw said. She graduated from Shorter University with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and is a member of the Georgia Council of the Blind and the Federation for the Blind.
The independent living movement nationwide is linked to a group of students with disabilities at the University of California in the early 1960s. The school offered housing for students with disabilities at the campus hospital. As the students became more aware of the level of control exerted over their living arrangements, they began to adopt a philosophy that strove to develop a level of independent living. That led to the creation of the first Center for Independent Living in Berkeley.
Over the past fifty years, CILs have expanded to every state in the U.S., with nine serving Georgia residents.
The Northwest Georgia Center started as a satellite office for the Atlanta Center for Independent Living. It broke off from the Atlanta unit 19 years ago and currently serves 15 counties, Paulding, Haralson, Polk, Floyd, Bartow, Chattooga, Gordon, Catoosa, Dade, Whitfield, Murray, Pickens, Gilmer, Fannin, and Walker. The agency currently has six employees. Holtzclaw is in the process of hiring another couple of employees. Each employee is a certified peer mentor trained to help people with disabilities meet their individual goals. “We’re small but mighty,” Holtzclaw said with a visible sense of pride. It’s a huge area, but we try to spread ourselves around.”
“A lot of people don’t know how to advocate for themselves,” Holtzclaw said. “We’ve had so many people step up and use services for home modifications and technology.”
Holtzclaw and her staff serve people with a wide range of disabilities, from visual to hearing to those with mobility issues and even mental issues. “We’ve got an infant that I think is one year old, and the oldest is 101,” she said.
The center adopted a third-grade class of children with autism at Main Elementary School in Rome this year. The center provides things like weighted blankets and bean bag chairs that are comfortable for the kids.
She is on her third guide dog. Chloe was with her through her years at Shorter. Anna, a black Lab, was with her when she first joined the center, and Felicia is her current dog, another black Lab. “She went with me to Washington, so she’s definitely a traveling dog,” Holtzclaw said.” We took a tour of the Capitol and the National Zoo. We did some advocacy for people with disabilities during the week of the 32nd anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act.”
“This is a job I would do for free. I guess that’s when you know you’re in the right place,” Holtzclaw said. “When we get somebody who might need a ramp for their home so they can access the community, and when I see that they get too busy to talk with us, then I know we’ve done our job. They’re so busy with their life that they don’t need us anymore.”
Holtzclaw is also particularly proud that the agency can work with many people whose disability came on suddenly and they feel lost. “They come here and are able to speak with somebody who has lived that themself,” Holtzclaw said.
The agency has served more than 160 people during the past year.
For more information, visit nwgacil.org.