The Alex & Ali Foundation Opens Southside Boutique Empowering Young Adults With Developmental Disabilities
Writer / Michelle Kaufman
Photographer/ Erin Feldmeyer
A Center Grove family is bringing together the talents of their son, Alex Parker, his best friend Ali Callahan and other members of the community into a unique boutique in Bargersville.
The Alex and Ali Foundation strives to empower and enhance the lives of young adults with autism and other developmental disabilities by providing opportunities for job skill development, vocational training and meaningful community involvement. The Hope Gallery does just that.
Opened in June at 74 N. Main Street, The Hope Gallery is run by The Alex and Ali Foundation, which was originally founded in 2014. Jennifer Parker, president of the foundation, started the non-profit organization for her son, Alex, who has autism.
When he graduated from Center Grove High School in 2015, Jennifer realized there were very limited options for those with developmental disabilities once they graduate high school.
“We knew that our son wanted to be involved in the community. He wants to work, but we just didn’t have a place for him to work,” Jennifer says. “We’ve been working on it for several years — a place for them to be that’s safe, where they can contribute to the community, where they can be a part of the community and where the community can see that they have value.”
The boutique features roughly 30 artists and is run by volunteers and young adults with autism and other developmental disabilities. They also partner with companies, like EV Gifts based out of North Carolina, who employ adults with developmental disabilities. This is to teach them all aspects of running the business including sales, customer interaction, transaction processing, maintenance and stocking shelves. Shoppers can find pieces from local artists as well as items from artists around the world.
The Hope Gallery sells art, jewelry, accessories, candles and other unique products ranging from 25 cents to more than $2,000.
Team members, as the foundation calls them, are also gaining vocational training and practice by creating products for the boutique, such as jewelry and mosaic artwork.
“Wonderfully made, perfectly unique” is The Hope Gallery’s tagline. It describes both the young adults and the products sold there.
“Our most recent shipment was a collection of necklaces and other jewelry from a jeweler in France,” says board member Katie Parker. “It’s amazing to see people interested in the boutique from other parts of the world.”
Jennifer says the southside community has been incredibly supportive so far and has had those in the community tell her how the gallery fills a need. There are around 10 volunteer employees and they are ready to welcome more.
The Hope Gallery is named after Jennifer’s youngest daughter, 11-year-old Hope. Hope has a severe congenital heart defect and cannot speak or use sign language but loves interacting with people. She has her own special item in the gallery — a prayer box.
When checking out, customers have the opportunity to fill out a prayer request form. They then drop it in the prayer box for Hope to pray.
“She prays for each one of those prayers requests,” Jennifer says. “She does it over and over and she’s diligent, she enjoys it. When she gets a new prayer, it’s like her getting a treat. There’s something about that for her that she truly enjoys.”
The Hope Gallery is the first venture of The Alex and Ali Foundation with plans for additional opportunities.
“Our goal with The Hope Gallery is that we will continue to find more artists with developmental disabilities and we will display their works,” Jennifer adds. “We will also have more employees with developmental disabilities and that will be producing goods that people will want to purchase.”
Jennifer says they are in need of volunteers at The Hope Gallery. The boutique is open Wednesday through Saturday from Noon until 5 p.m. They are additionally looking for volunteers with a skill to share with the team members.