Katie Farrell Makes the World a Bit Brighter
Photographer / Amy Payne
Meeting Katie Farrell was truly a treat. When I rang her doorbell, Katie, 34, greeted me with a bright, beaming, beautiful smile that I must admit I appreciated more after enduring a year and a half with masks covering our expressions. Through the years I’ve had the privilege of knowing a number of people with Down syndrome and am always impressed by their zest for life. They emanate goodness from the inside out, are gracious, kind and gentle, and genuinely want to do their part to make those around them happy.
As if that’s not enough, they often leave you chuckling with their wit and wisdom. Katie is no different. Soon after I sat down with Katie and her parents, Ross and Judy, to learn more about her, Ross noted that the family has lived in Hendricks County since 1985.
“But 1987, now that was a good year,” Katie declared, referring to the year she made her debut into the world.
Endlessly energetic, Katie has a number of hobbies including sewing, swimming, bowling, golfing, cooking, horseback riding and reading. She especially enjoys reading books on ancient history including Egyptian and Greek.
“The Plainfield schools were good for her,” Judy says. “They didn’t just classify her as disabled and throw her in a classroom. They worked with her all the way through school with peer tutors and inclusion classrooms.”
She took cooking classes through Sycamore Services to learn skills like cooking safety. While at Plainfield High School, Sycamore Services helped Katie secure a job with Applebee’s. When she graduated from high school in 2007, she asked the manager if she could continue her employment. This June will mark 14 years at Applebee’s for Katie. She logs about 12 hours per week, usually working the lunch shift on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and the dinner shift on Fridays and Saturdays. Her duties include greeting people, rolling silverware and taking ice to the bar.
Rachel Gonzales, general manager at Applebee’s, has worked with Katie for seven years and is pleased by the way she executes everything expected of her.
“When guests enter the building, Katie is the first to greet them at the door with a smile and a ‘How are you?’” Gonzales says. “Katie has never come into a shift negatively. Every day is a positive attitude, regardless of what’s going on outside of work. She’s fun to work with and a great asset to our team.”
Katie enjoys her shifts because she’s a social butterfly.
“I mingle with most every employee, whether they are younger or older,” Katie says.
Though employee turnover is fast, especially in today’s market, she remains loyal to her employer and looks forward to each shift. Last year Katie contracted COVID-19 and was sick for several weeks. Once she recovered, however, she was one of the first employees called back to work.
When she’s not at Applebee’s, Katie keeps busy. One day per week, a caregiver takes her out for several hours to engage in community activities. They might go shopping or bowling, take in a museum or a play, or go out to lunch. She also attends a special Bible study at Messiah Lutheran Church in Brownsburg for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, where they participate in songs, prayer, interactive Bible study, crafts and games. In addition, she attends weekly church services, which she thoroughly enjoys as her faith is important to her. When asked to share something or someone that makes her the happiest, her face brightens and she answers joyfully, “God!”
Once per week Katie goes to the National Institute for Fitness and Sport gym, as part of a program through IUPUI recreational therapy designed to help students learn how to adapt their educational programs for special-needs individuals.
“Katie meets up with an IUPUI student to do their lesson plans,” Ross says. “It’s good for the student who is learning to be a physical education teacher or physical therapist, and it’s good for Katie too.”
In the past she has participated in The Biz Academy of Musical Theatre’s My Time to Shine program, which is an acting class that invites those with special needs to be paired with mentors to help them during a show. She has performed in “Cinderella” and “Shrek the Musical.” Not only is the experience good for growing self-confidence, but it also helps performers work on their articulation and memorization skills.
“I like so many things,” Katie says. “I’m pretty much open to anything.”
Every Thursday Katie helps her mom deliver food for the Meals on Wheels program. Judy also taught her daughter looming, which is a kind of knitting. Katie makes hats and scarves, and donates them to homeless organizations Family Promise and Sheltering Wings.
“We try to keep her busy, occupied in many different activities,” Ross says.
One night per week she and her mom also go to Hazelwood Christian Church to volunteer with the homeless kitchen.
“It helps her to know she’s doing something for others,” Judy says.
She swam with Special Olympics when she was 10 years old. That was when her parents first learned of her competitive spirit.
“She was competing in the state meet with all these athletes who had come to Indiana to compete” Ross says. “She was in the meet with four other guys. She was going along in the 25-meter breaststroke and was about three-fourths of the way down, and she saw that one of the boys was a bit ahead of her. She put her head down, kicked it into another gear and won the race.”
She’s not just fierce in the water but on land as well, especially during family game night – a tradition that began during the pandemic when they would play a game every evening after dinner. Though they switch up the games, sometimes playing “Crazy Eights” and other times “Sorry!” or “Yahtzee,” they do have a favorite.
“‘Monopoly’ Monday has kind of stuck,” Judy says.
The family can’t play as often now that regular activities have resumed.
“It was tough,” Ross says, referring to COVID-related shutdowns. “Some people with disabilities didn’t have as many activities in their lives to begin with, and were really lost. We’re thrilled that Katie has her life back now.”
The family loves to travel and hopes to take a Norwegian cruise later this year. Past trips have included the Caribbean, Alaska and a Disney cruise. They also took the Queen Mary 2 ship across the ocean and visited London, England and Ireland. Though they love seeing the world, they couldn’t be happier calling Hendricks County home.
“Plainfield has been a great place for Katie to grow up,” Ross says. “The academic part of growing up is important, but not as important as being able to socialize with her world. She’s been such a blessing to our family.”