OTB: Serving the developmentally disabled 

click to enlarge Kate Wagner (center) is flanked by her clients at Outside the Box. - STEPHEN SIMONETTO
  • Kate Wagner (center) is flanked by her clients at Outside the Box.
  • Stephen Simonetto

As the group of eight developmentally disabled young men from Outside the Box (OTB) file into the Rock Steady Boxing gym, Studio OTB Development Coordinator Kate Wagner is waiting there to greet them. The men have come to check out this one-of-a-kind nonprofit gym that combats Parkinson's Disease with boxing gloves.

These eight young men have their own unique challenges and they know a good organization when they see it. Knowing that the trainers of Rock Steady Boxing help people with Parkinson's maximize their physical potential through a regimen of non-contact boxing exercises, they've come here for the first time with two OTB group facilitators to learn firsthand about this organization — and to get a workout.

This particular group of men is called the "Rainmakers." They've been creating art that, when sold at the Athenaeum ArtSpace during their Nov. 4 First Friday show "A Cause for Elegance" will benefit twenty local nonprofit causes including Rock Steady Boxing.

OTB's Kate Wagner, who graduated from the University of Indianapolis in 2005 with a degree in Art Therapy, is responsible for making visits like this happen.

"A lot of people think that people with disabilities are people you have to give to," says Wagner. "But they have so much more to give. That's what's so cool about the art is that it can open so many different doors. They win, our artists win. It's win, win, win, across the board... The art program allows for volunteer opportunities to happen. And really all the relationships that we've established are still going today. Once people meet OTB they usually fall in love."

After the Rainmakers get settled in, everyone including Wagner and OTB Executive Director Megan Greek sits down in a circle on the mats for stretches led by Rock Steady's Program Director Kristina Rose Follmar, a redhead with her hair tied back in a blue bandana.

"Welcome to Rock Steady Boxing," says Follmar. "This is a fitness program that we developed for people who have Parkinson's Disease. You see those guys on TV, they're usually battling against each other but that's not what we do in here. We don't hit each other. What you don't realize is that those athletes that are on TV battling it out, have to do exercises to get in shape for that stuff. So what we do in our gym is all the things those athletes do to get in shape for their sport."

After warm-up exercises and a session with jumping rope, the eight men put on boxing gloves and get the chance to punch punching bags. There's a wide spectrum of ability in the Rainmakers. Some of the men need some extra attention from OTB staff and Rock Steady Boxing trainers just to keep their balance, and some of the men are able to act independently. But everybody really seems to be enjoying this excursion, particularly a talkative young man named Edward who seems to be having the time of his life.

Another young man, Ben Jared, quickly makes an impression on the Rock Steady Boxing staff with his skill with the jump rope exercises. This twenty-four-year-old is a calming presence when interacting with the some of the more excitable Rainmakers — like Edward — especially when the group moves into the boxing ring, not to box but to sit down and do more exercises.

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