INDIANAPOLIS — Businesses and entities across the state and the country search for workers to fill open positions as we continue to navigate COVID-19, but a population of individuals who want to work often cannot find a place in our workforce.
One local mother and her foundation is working to change that and help every person find a place where they belong. Now, she hopes to expand these opportunities to more communities and to more people.
Jennifer Parker is a Jefferson Award winner who we have featured on WRTV for her work with the Alex and Ali Foundation.
The Alex and Ali Foundation works to provide job training and opportunities for adults with disabilities who often don't have a safe place to continue learning and growing after high school. The Alex and Ali Foundation runs two non profits to help these individuals earn job skills and have a safe place to grow and learn in our community. The Hope Gallery is a unique boutique out of Bargersville and Happy Hounds is a doggie daycare on Indy's south side.
Sally Atkins has autism and calls Franklin home. Her brother Steven first found The Hope Gallery in downtown Bargersville and told his family about it.
"She always wanted a job," Sally's brother Clayton Atkins said. "We could hardly believe we found that in the small town of Bargersville, when so much has not been available in the community as a whole."
Sally works at the boutique four days a week crafting items for sale alongside her fellow team members.
"We tried it out and Sally says it's the best thing she's ever done," says Atkins. "She looks forward to it each day."
That is why Parker wants to expand these opportunities into more communities because the need is so great for people like Sally who have sometimes waited years to find a safe place to work and thrive. Her family just recently moved to the Newburgh/Evansville area and are in the process of adding more opportunities for people who live in that part of our state.
"We need resources like this. We need safe places for our individuals to work," says Parker. "We have a population of people who want to work, however they need a safe environment, they need extra training, they need a loving community."
Parker says both The Hope Gallery and Happy Hounds are busy and working well as nonprofits, but the foundation as a whole needs help to continue to provide these work experiences to more team members, and due to the pandemic, they have been unable to hold their annual fund-raising gala so donations overall are down.
She says she needs more individuals and businesses to help in this effort with both monetary donations and also as volunteers to work alongside these team members.
One of the people in the community who sees firsthand how this opportunity can have a major impact on a team member is Lorianne Meek. She is the Happy Hounds Chair for the foundation and talked to WRTV about how this experience is changing the life of one of their team members, Kimmie Thompson.
Kimmie works at Happy Hounds every day and has grown to help with numerous tasks and responsibilities like getting water for the dogs, feeding them, washing them, taking them to the play yard and loving on them.
"Kimmie tried to get employment at other places and wasn't welcome into any of those jobs," says Meek.
"I was just having bad luck," add Kimmie.
"She came to us and we were thrilled to take her in and she has just become this amazing worker for us," says Meek.
She says Kimmie learns to look for cues with the dogs as they play and helps them calm down, if needed. That has helped her with some issues she was having at home and has really grown through this experience.
"Just watching the success is so incredible," says Meek. "Every little step is just such a triumph."
It is those success stories like with Kimmie and others that makes this work so important for Parker and her team.
"Every person needs a purpose and that's what we want to do for these individuals," says Parker.
If you can help the Alex and Ali Foundation by donating or volunteering, click here.