By Sherri Coner
Behind the only bright pink door in downtown Bargersville, The Hope Gallery is a pet-friendly haven for any sweet tooth.
But it’s also about so much more.
On this particular day, Sadie Stokes, director of this nonprofit program, helped visiting students from an area high school practice counting dollar bills and making change.
Without customers waiting to buy frozen treats, no one stood at the cash register.
Marty Alexander of Greenwood shared a bead-covered table with four Hope Gallery team members who were making keychains and other items to sell in the gallery.
When Marty Hamilton first visited this very positive place for adults with developmental delays and autism, “I just started volunteering,” she said with a smile. “I couldn’t help it.”
That was four years ago.
Hamilton walked over to a poster near the entrance.
The Alex and Ali Foundation
It was the story of Andy and Jennifer Parker and how love for their children mixed with perseverance and resulted in big blessings. Like countless other parents who have adult children with autism and other challenges, the Parkers worried constantly about their son Alex who has autism. After high school, there were few if any employment opportunities and social activities to add value to his adult life. So the Parkers took the matter into their own hands by forming a foundation in 2014 and naming it after Alex and his best friend, Ali Callahan.
Opening The Hope Gallery in June 2018 was one of the foundation’s first steps toward enhancing the lives of people with learning challenges. By providing on-the-job training for team members, they could immediately implement and practice new skills, such as operating the cash register, cleaning the workspace and appropriately interacting with customers. At the end of their workday, team members experience pride in their personal accomplishments. That’s a feeling everyone deserves.
As news traveled quickly through community networks for people with disabilities, the Hope Gallery became an important hub for confidence-building moments. After they learn to identify the various ice cream choices and how to use the cash register, team members are paired with volunteers who cover three-hour shifts. With a caring volunteer right beside them for direction and support, team members ring up ice cream orders, serve treats and also show customers a variety of handcrafted items such as mosaic magnets, jewelry and more.
A little girl with a big heart
When customer smiles match those of proud team members, it is evident that lives are being improved in many different ways. This is more important than words adequately explain, since the gallery was inspired by the spirit of a little girl named Hope. She was Alex’s younger sibling who was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS), a severe congenital defect which basically means the Parkers’ young daughter had only half of a heart.
Hope tirelessly used all of that half to love on family, friends, strangers, animals.
“Hope is now in heaven,” Hamilton said as her eyes filled with tears. “She was 13 years old when she died. She couldn’t talk and she had 17 surgeries. But she could laugh like you wouldn’t believe.”
In such a beautifully impactful manner, the frail little blonde filled with laughter inspired the Parkers to add a second Hope Gallery in Newburgh in 2021. Families from the Newburgh and Evansville community were over the moon about their adult children having access to the same job training offered at the Bargersville gallery.
Respecting the fact that not everyone wants a retail job or constant human contact in the workplace, the Alex & Ali Foundation made a completely different on-the-job training opportunity available. By assisting with funding for Happy Hounds, a Perry Township doggy daycare, it is possible for animal loving team members to learn about properly walking dogs and cleaning up after dogs inside the fenced, sprawling green space on the Southside. None of the team members needed the slightest bit of guidance though, for how to cuddle their furry guests. That natural skill comes directly from team member hearts.
Just like able-bodied adults, those with autism and other learning delays are very aware of what they are interested in learning more about. As it turns out, some team members are wanna-be gardeners with an itch for sinking their green thumbs in dirt. So that interest is also addressed. Behind the Bargersville gallery, gardening fans learn to prepare the soil for planting before they actually plant what they want to plant. Then they carefully tend to vegetables and flowers growing in raised beds. Watching green hints pop through the spring soil is exciting. Gathering cucumbers, tomatoes and other homegrown surprises is also very positive. But for many volunteers and family members, pride sparkling in team members’ eyes is the only gift they ever need. When team members eagerly announce that they grew all those garden treats themselves … that is truly the epitome of The Hope Gallery mission.
All the happy colors on the outside and inside of the gallery honor how Hope lived her life, especially that bright pink door that opens to so much opportunity.
“When we thank customers for supporting the program, they turn around and thank us,” Hamilton said with a grateful smile.
Location and hours of operation information:
The Hope Gallery
74 N. Main St.
Bargersville, IN 46106
111 W. Stop 11 Road
Indianapolis, IN 46217