(l-r) Carolyn Utesch and Jennifer Freeman, founders of the Parkinson’s Wellness Center, which provides services and resources to Monroe County residents. Courtesy photo


When rehabilitation therapists Jennifer Freeman and Carolyn Utesch attended a 2019 conference sponsored by the Parkinson’s Foundation, they couldn’t have predicted how it might change their lives—and the lives of the estimated 350 Monroe County residents living with Parkinson’s disease.

“We saw teams from all over the country serving the population living with Parkinson’s much more thoroughly than we are here in Bloomington,” Freeman says. “We were simply inspired.”

The two started brainstorming, meeting weekly to plan how they might bring that kind of care to Monroe County. The result is the Parkinson’s Wellness Center.

The pandemic has put a hold on a physical location, but Utesch and Freeman have forged ahead with resources and virtual offerings, including a Thursday evening Parkinson’s Support Group that meets twice a month via Zoom.

Support group topics have included discussions about reducing fall risk, grief and loss, exercise, the COVID-19 vaccine, and adaptive equipment.

One guest speaker was a coach with Rock Steady Boxing, a boxing-inspired class that can reduce, reverse, and delay the symptoms of Parkinson’s.

“There were several members who had taken Rock Steady classes here in Bloomington before the pandemic and were missing it,” Freeman says. Support group members are continuing with the classes until face-to-face Rock Steady classes start again locally.

There are plans to add classes that support those living with Parkinson’s to the website, and looking further ahead, Freeman and Utesch hope to secure a physical location where they can offer in-person classes and activities. A lot depends on community buy-in, Freeman says.

“We are definitely looking for community partners,” she says. “That could be shared gym space, help with marketing, or sponsoring a delay-the-disease exercise program. And, of course, we welcome financial support.”

For now, part of their goal is educating those who have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and making sure they have as much information as possible. To that end, they’ve created a folder of information for area health care professionals.