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Dawson County can now better service people experiencing mental illness, developmental disabilities
I-AVITA R.C. pic 1
Ribbon cutting attendees smile after Avita Community Partners Chief Executive Officer Cindy Levi, center, and board member Joe Hirsch, center left, cut the ceremonial ribbon, honoring the opening of Dawson Countys new Avita facilities. - photo by Allie Dean Dawson County News

Formerly Georgia Mountains Community Services, Avita is a public agency that was created by the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities. Avita opened up its new offices in Dawson County in February, and on Monday celebrated it's opening with a ribbon cutting and open house with the Dawson County Chamber of Commerce.

There are two offices at the agency's new location on Lumpkin Campground Road next to the outlets. One is a facility for behavioral health services, the other for developmental disabilities services.

Cindy Levi, chief executive officer of Avita, said at the ribbon cutting that she is proud to be opening offices in Dawsonville after starting the process a year ago.

Levi said the geographic territory that Avita serves includes 13 counties in North Georgia, and before the offices were opened in Dawson County, people in need of assistance would have to travel to other counties like Forsyth and Lumpkin for services. The new facilities will eliminate a lot of that travel time, Levi said.

"Last year there were over 600 residents of Dawson County that received our services in neighboring counties, so obviously there was a need," Levi said. "They would go to either our Cumming office or our Dahlonega office. We're thrilled to have a location here now."

According to Levi, Avita employs about 300 people, with 23 employed at the Dawson offices alone. Levi said that the more the need grows, the more people will be hired.

Joe Hirsch, who has been on the Avita board for 13 years as the Dawson County representative, said he has seen a lot of changes and sees the potential for the program to grow within Dawson.

"We're proud to be here in this location," Hirsch said. "Now we've got a facility in our backyard- travel is a problem for a lot of the clients at Avita. The population of need is growing, and our staff will be increased proportionately as well."

Levi said the Dawson location is currently serving 28 clients with developmental disabilities. She said it's hard to count the number served by the behavioral health services.

AVITA focuses on community-based services, such as finding housing for clients, helping them find employment and working to improve their daily living skills.

Programs offered include counseling, medication management, case management, community support and psychological rehabilitation, crisis stabilization, substance abuse outpatient programs, community housing programs, host family services, women's treatment and recovery support and more.

No client is turned away if they are unable to pay. Avita fees can be paid through Medicare, Medicaid, the Veterans Administration or by commercial insurance.

Dawson County Family Connection Coordinator Nancy Stites said this kind of service is long overdue in the county.

"Just a presence in the community is needed and necessary," Stites said. "We knew that there were people who needed the services but weren't getting them because transportation was an issue, but now people can take the senior center transit right there."

Stites said that the variety of programs and the accessibility will be great for the community.

"Every time I talk to them I find out about a new service. It's amazing," Stites said. "We have been trying to get parenting classes in Dawson County, and the people at Avita said that they do them in Forsyth, and if they can get enough parents they can do them here. They are just so flexible and easy to work with."

The Avita offices are located at 671 South Lumpkin Campground Road in suites 30 and 100. Hours are Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Contact the Behavioral Health Services office at (678)866-8777 and the Developmental Disabilities Services office at (678)866-8616 for more information about services and programs.