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.
That's where we met Nicole Adkins, one of the many success stories to come out of this initiative.
Adkins has a heart for animals and her passion is on full display when she works as a team member for Happy Hounds.
She tells WRTV she had a hard time in school and thought college wasn't for her but that all changed when she found support through the Alex and Ali Foundation, the organization founded by Parker to provide support and opportunities for growth for adults with developmental disabilities.
"A few years back, I would barely talk to my therapist, throw a fit whenever she would try to talk to me. I hated the description, the word autism, because of how much it got me bullied at school, so i viewed it horribly," says Adkins. "Coming in here, it's really helped me."
While at Happy Hounds, Adkins took on more responsibilities and gained confidence in herself and her abilities. She realized a life-long dream -- helping people and animals as a Veterinary Technician. So she applied to a program and got accepted. Adkins starts classes to become a vet tech this week.
"Working here, and the responsibilities, have really given me the courage to try college again and to apply to the Vet Tech Institute and I got accepted," says Adkins. "Being able to save animals and help people, I mean, a lot of people don't realize that these are parts of our family these, we really care about them. For a lot of us these are our children. So to be able to help someone with an animal who would otherwise have not have gotten help would be fantastic."
Parker says she is proud of Nicole for discovering her confidence through her work at Happy Hounds.
"It's just incredible," says Parker. "And for us, it's such a blessing to see the progress that these individuals make by being in a safe environment where they are encouraged. They are able to learn what they need to learn. 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."
Adkins shared some advice for other young adults like her.
"Find yourself a good support network. Find your people who will support you. Take it slow. Go at your own pace. Don't try to push yourself too hard, and make sure you are always getting a little bit out of your comfort zone at a time," says Adkins.
Parker says that given the right structure with the correct training, these individuals can be very successful and are able to give back to our society.
Another outlet for this training is "The Hope Gallery" in Bargersville, which is named after Parker's daughter Hope.
If you want to learn more about the Alex and Ali Foundation and their two projects — Happy Hounds Doggie Daycare and The Hope Gallery — you can visit www.thealexandalifoundation.com.