INDIANAPOLIS — Jennifer Parker is a local mother who dedicates her time to helping families like hers by providing a safe space for adults with developmental disabilities to grow and learn.
Thanks to her efforts, Parker is this month's winner of the Jefferson Award for Multiplying Good, which recognizes the unsung heroes in our community.
WRTV stopped by Happy Hounds Doggie Daycare on the south side of Indianapolis where Parker stays busy overseeing volunteers and team members.
"The dogs and our team members, they work so well together, because they both are just loving. They both love one another," Parker said. "And it's just the way the world should be. We have a lot to learn from them."
At the facility, customers drop their off dogs for a day of care and play. Team members with developmental disabilities who work there play with the dogs, cuddle them, clean up after them and even bake homemade doggie treats.
It's a project by the Parkers' organization, The Alex and Ali Foundation, which works to provide job training and opportunities for adults who often don't have a safe place to continue learning and growing after high school.
The Alex and Ali Foundation is a nonprofit organization that empowers young adults with autism and other developmental disabilities through meaningful employment opportunities and vocational training.
"After high school, there are very few opportunities for individuals with developmental disabilities," said Parker. She first realized this with her son, Alex, one of the namesakes of the organization. They also struggled finding ways for Alex to stay engaged in the community and with other people.
By creating opportunities for these individuals at places like Happy Hounds, people like Alex are thriving and interacting with community members. Some team members go on to secondary education or are hired for jobs at other workplaces thanks to skills they acquire with Jennifer's help.
She said that given the right structure with the correct training, these individuals can be very successful and are able to give back to our society.
"Our individuals do make the world a better place and people need to see that," Parker said. "We believe in them and that makes all the difference. They can do it. they just need a safe environment and they need the encouragement and they need the training."
Another outlet for this training is The Hope Gallery in Bargersville, which is named after Parker's daughter Hope.
Hope had a severe congenital heart defect, Hypo-plastic left ventricle, which is essentially half a heart. She endured 17 surgeries, including four open heart surgeries. She was unable to speak or use sign language due to a stroke that occurred during a procedure, but was full of hope.
Hope died unexpectedly in February 2020, but her joy lives on inside the funky, unique boutique in Johnson County.
Inside the shop, team members create arts and crafts to sell to customers. They also help run the cash register and stock the shelves as well as assist customers.
"I think we are giving hope to the younger generation," Parker said. "We are giving hope to parents with children with a developmental disability."
WRTV is proud to present Parker with the Jefferson Award for Multiplying Good for her dedication to these individuals in our community.
Through the Alex and Ali Foundation and at both Happy Hounds and The Hope Gallery, lives are being changed for the better and adults with developmental disabilities are gaining the skills and confidence they need to lead meaningful and successful lives as critical parts of our society.
If you want to donate to this cause or volunteer to help team members at The Hope Gallery of Happy Hounds Doggie Daycare, you can learn more about their mission and get in touch with Jennifer by visiting www.thealexandalifoundation.com.