MUNSTER | Joel Ratajack turned his passion for rock ’n’ roll and his friendship with neighbor Eric Neiner into a music fest Saturday to benefit adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities.
Rockopelli, an all-ages concert produced by Ratajack, 19, of Munster, featured six local bands and a belly dancing troupe performing at St. Thomas More School gym.
The event benefited Planting Possibilities, a nonprofit organization planning a multiphased project to provide employment, job skills training and volunteer opportunities for adults with disabilities. The project will start with a plot of land, said Mary Anne Neiner, Eric’s mother.
“We are looking for 10 acres of land in a highly visible location, along a major highway,” said Mary Anne Neiner, who founded Planting Possibilities with her husband, Mark.
Eric, their 22-year old son, has autism, a developmental disability.
According to the Indiana Governor’s Planning Council on Disabilities, two-thirds of adults with intellectual and development disabilities, including Down syndrome and autism, are unemployed even when the economy is strong.
“It is our goal to build a commercial self-sustaining greenhouse, gift/garden shop, botanical gardens with event space and, ultimately, adjacent supported living accommodations for employees/trainees with developmental disabilities,” she said.
Ratajack not only grew up with Eric, he was Neiner’s Best Buddy at Munster High School.
The school’s Best Buddies program was introduced through the efforts of Brad Hemingway, another Neiner family friend.
In public and private schools, the international program pairs students with intellectual and developmental disabilities in one-to-one friendships with fellow students.
“A friend and I came up with the idea of producing a music concert with local bands, and I thought we would make it a benefit concert,” Ratajack said before Saturday’s concert.
“I’ve known Eric Neiner since I was born. The Neiners are such good family friends, and Planting Possibilities is such a good cause,” said Ratajack, who is entering his sophomore year at Indiana University in Bloomington.
Joel and Eric served as masters of ceremonies and kept up a scripted patter between sets.
Krystal Quagliara and her group Bellydance by Krystal started the two parts of the concert, which ran from 6 to 10 p.m.
Bands contributing their rock music talents included To The Future!, Stacked Actors, Birds of a Feather, Fox, Chasing Frets and Blind Transmission.
“A flower will grow someday and someone will be able to smile over a job well done because you were here tonight,” Mary Anne Neiner said.