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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
Outside the Box
the Box, based at 3940 E. 56th Street, offers life skills and career training
like other day programs for the developmentally disabled in the Indy area. And,
just like in these other programs, a large percentage of its 130 participants
use Medicaid waivers to fund the services they receive. But OTB stands
out for its low participant to staff ratios (6:1) — and for its numerous
one-on-one activities engaging one staff person per participant — as
well as for the innovative nature of its programs. (OTB is the 2011 recipient of a $100,000 grant from Impact 100
while Rock Steady Boxing won this grant in 2010: see box.)
Outside the Box is the locus of much of this innovation. In this studio, the
Rainmakers and a host of other peer-matched groups make their art.
Church is the Studio Art Coordinator. "We started Studio OTB because it
provides an opportunity for people for whom maybe it's not so easy to express
how you're feeling inside," says Church, who graduated with a B.A. in Fine Arts
from Purdue in 2007. "It just grew and grew and now we have three community
classes in the evenings and provide art classes for everybody who comes through
OTB which is awesome. And then we have artists in a bunch of different shows
and just trying to get our artwork out there so that they're respected not only
as individuals with disabilities but people who are true artists who create
wonderful, beautiful things."
Wagner, after querying the participants and ascertaining their choices about
what nonprofit organizations they wish to benefit, then connects with the
chosen organizations. The Rainmakers' trip to Rock Steady Boxing is only
one example of numerous excursions that Studio OTB participants take to the
organizations they wish to benefit by selling their art. (At Studio OTB art
shows, thirty percent of the profits of the sales of their art go to various
nonprofits and seventy percent going back to Studio OTB for things like art
group Wagner helps coordinate, the Dreamers, is a collection of older women
who've chosen the Little Red Door Cancer Agency as the one that they wish to
"Little Red Door
Red Doorhas a little community garden and they needed it watered and weeded
weekly," says Wagner. "So not only do the Dreamers who adopted Little Red Door
get to volunteer, but Rainmakers can go volunteer there and other groups can
volunteer. So you have your group and everyone else can benefit."
history of Outside the Box
Greek is the brainchild behind OTB," notes Wagner. "She wanted to find a
place where her peers could find a place where they could go that wasn't the
normal day program. So we're very person-centered. Lots of day programs
try to do a one size fits all model but here our clients run the show. So we're
different from other providers because we pair people up instead of just sticking
them in a room. They get to meet each other and get to see if it's a good fit."
current E. 56th Street, which OTB moved into in July 2011, sits on
seven acres of property. There is plenty of room for expansion and OTB may
have to expand soon, because it is already at capacity. But OTB began in a
much smaller facility.
was myself and four students and a 200 square foot room," says Greek, who
graduated with a Master's Degree in Clinical Psychology from the University of
Indianapolis in 2007. "And that was just three years ago. So we have just
exploded in the last several years. I and the other co-founder have been in the
field for over ten years. And I just really saw the need for something
meaningful for people to do. People with disabilities have the same hopes
and dreams that we all do. They want meaning in their day. They want a
productive lifestyle, all of those things. And there just wasn't a venue
for them to do....
the idea was to come up with a continuing education program for adults with disabilities.
So that's what this has turned into. We have small groups, we have
classrooms with students that work on a whole gamut of things. Most day
programs have really large rooms with a lot of people in them. We're
work in Studio OTB
days after Ben Jared visits Rock Steady Boxing with the Rainmakers, he's back
in Studio OTB preparing banners that will appear in the Athenaeum show, while
another OTB participant, Katie McKee, is painting a wood cigar box
brown. They're seated at a well-used (and well-loved) table on which you
can see thousands of many-colored paint marks made by hundreds of Studio OTB
clients over the years.
Studio OTB, the twenty-something McKee has had the chance to her skills at
photography by going to various locations with her mentor, who just so happens
to be Wagner. For seven and a half hours a week, Wagner mentors this
Studio OTB participant on a one-to-one basis.
go everywhere," says Wagner. "She gets to plan her day. She gets to choose
where she wants to go or she'll say I want to find something related to this
and we'll go there. She just loves taking pictures. She loves nature. She loves
the city. We've been in the art district. Down by the river the different parks
she doesn't just have to do photography sometimes she'll actually make some
art. Sometimes she'll want to go to a gallery and make some stuff meet some
people. So it's a little bit of everything."
can serve as her subject; McKee's cat, an urban street corner, the flowing
waters of the White River bordered by the trees of Marrott Park.
parents wanted me to do something where I wasn't sitting at home a lot, bored,"
says McKee. "They came across OTB and at first I wasn't all gung ho about it.
But then they talked about photography and I've liked to take pictures since
I've been little and I've been doing it ever since. Taking pictures is a good
for Ben Jared, working in Studio OTB has inspired him not only to create art,
but to think about possible career paths. In the future, he can see himself
working with the developmentally disabled.
here at OTB has helped me to open up more and to start to be a little more
talkative again," says Jared. And to be willing to try new things. Because
before coming here I had closed myself up to everything... And they definitely
help me out with that and to get back to doing some of the things that I like
to do with art."
more info on OTB, visit otbonline.org.