Down Syndrome Organizations Worth Knowing: GiGi's Playhouse

gigi's play house interview

Here at DSDN, we want to thank our sponsors who make our Rockin' Mom Retreat possible. GiGi's Playhouse is one of our 2017 sponsors.

GiGi’s Playhouse mission is to change the way the world views Down syndrome through national campaigns, educational programs, and by empowering individuals with Down syndrome, their families and the community. With 32 locations across the United States and Mexico and start-up teams in over 200 communities nationwide, GiGi’s Playhouse is the ONLY network of Down Syndrome Achievement Centers. Every day, we provide FREE, life-changing therapeutic, educational and career training programs for 30,000+ individuals of all ages. Programs are always available to participants and families despite their initial skill level or ability to pay. By offering free programs and through our Generation G Campaign for global acceptance, we EMPOWER families by maximizing opportunities for daily achievement and lasting acceptance. To ensure lasting acceptance, we must show the world what individuals with Down syndrome are truly capable of achieving as students, co-workers, volunteers, friends, and valued members of their communities. Our program outcomes help advance this vital social impact goal.

Below is DSDN's interview with Alison Flores, a Site Director for GiGi's Playhouse:

What inspired your founders to start your organization?

With over 450,000 individuals with Down syndrome living in the US alone; and including affected parents and siblings, over 2 million people face this diagnosis every single day. 1 in 691 live births results in a Down syndrome diagnosis. The average age to give birth to a baby is 28. With an 80-85% termination rate: much work remains to give babies a fighting chance for life, love and happiness.

Nancy Gianni is the Founder and "Chief Belief Officer" of GiGi's Playhouse Down Syndrome Achievement Centers, and the visionary behind the organization's launch and dramatic growth. In 2002, Nancy gave birth to her beautiful daughter, GiGi. When Nancy received GiGi's Down syndrome diagnosis, her fears coupled with the negative reactions of the medical staff made Nancy believe that her life, as she knew it, was over. She soon realized that GiGi could do the very same things that her other children do! What began as a mother's vision to change perception, and maximize her daughter's successes, has evolved into a global movement of acceptance.

Built on an entrepreneurial model of replicable locations and volunteer-led programs, GiGi’s Playhouse delivers programs and experiences benefiting participants of all ages, and positive networking opportunities for parents. Through that entrepreneurial spirit, one location has grown to 32 in the US and Mexico, as well as more than 200 inquiries as of today.

What kind of impact is your organization making?

GiGi’s Playhouse advances impact by delivering free programs. Thousands of hours of free speech & language therapy. Tens of thousands of hours of free literacy and math tutoring. Through free Playhouse programs, individuals with Down syndrome can influence and empower their own quality of life through consistent participation, progress and goal setting. Overcoming low muscle tone and cognitive delays, improving speech and language skills, reading and math skills, fitness and nutritional commitments, and real world workplace skills unleash amazing potential and enable many achievements.

GiGi’s Playhouse advances impact by expanding the Generation G campaign to positively impact and directly influence the way people with Down syndrome are accepted. The 321 Days of Acceptance, a project within the Generation G movement, introduces the world to someone with Down syndrome every day for 321 straight days. The project surpassed 1 Million views on social media in the first 100 days. Through these actions and progress, we can positively change the perceptions of society at large. When society, particularly children, openly accept and engage people with Down syndrome and others with different abilities, they will help to reduce bullying and discrimination while increasing new opportunities for academic, workplace and community success.

GiGi’s Playhouse advances impact by: enabling connections between families and businesses nationwide. People with Down syndrome (and other disabilities), along with their families and friends, have tremendous buying power. When corporations and local businesses accept and embrace individuals with Down syndrome and their families as valued customers, positive impacts on revenue and employee satisfaction can skyrocket. People with disabilities represent more than $200 billion in discretionary spending1. 70% of AAPD (American Association of People with Disabilities) members say they are more likely to buy from retailers that support them. In addition, 92% of participants with disabilities felt more favorable toward companies that employ individuals with disabilities and 87% would give their business to those companies3.

| 1 U.S. Department of Labor, “Diverse Perspectives: People With Disabilities Fulfilling Your Business Goals.”

| 2 The American Association of People with Disabilities and Public Opinion Research Inc.

| 3 Center for Social Development and Education at the University of Massachusetts at Boston survey (Siperstein et al. 2006).

What’s your greatest hope for your organization?

In a word: ACCEPTANCE. Differences do not discriminate. They don’t care who you are. They don’t care if you are rich or that you are “low risk,” or “not those kind of people.” Differences are the ultimate leveler and they’re seconds away. When you experience that difference in yourself or in the life of someone you love, things change drastically and you’ll find yourself yearning for a more accepting world for that person you love. Individuals with Down syndrome benefit from FREE literacy and math tutoring, FREE therapeutic based programming including speech therapy, FREE career skills training, and all the tools they need to succeed in life. At the very same time, the community gets a dedicated place to learn about the value of acceptance and how they can be a part of changing the world. A place that feels like Disneyland but has the heart of a Lion!

What is your greatest hope for the future of people with Down syndrome?

Two words: ACHIEVEMENT (and) ACCEPTANCE. By expanding the availability, consistency, quality and impact of free purposeful programs: more individuals with Down syndrome and their families can grow the skills and self-confidence needed for lasting acceptance. To accomplish this for our families, we intend to innovate new programs and invest in new ways to measure impacts. We will onboard new speech & language pathologists. We will develop new mobile apps to ensure progress at home, and to reach more families. We will launch a formalized fitness and nutrition program to systematically address the many physiological challenges of low muscle tone

We will expand our career training center for greater skill development and interview preparation. We will expand social change campaigns like 321 Days of Acceptance so that more people believe that individuals with Down syndrome deserve the same acceptance and dignity as anyone else.

Simply put: GiGi’s Playhouse helps individuals with Down syndrome get ready for the world ahead. The question remains: will the world be ready to embrace and accept them? This answer is far from simple. Believing in our families and further investing in our programs will undoubtedly improve the quality of countless lives. It will also advance an urgently needed social impact by expanding the power of acceptance. With greater acceptance: better quality of life can flourish for all.

How does your organization support new families?

Down syndrome is not a disease and there is no cure. It is the largest chromosomal disability in our country and yet, it is the least funded. Many families are first time parents and they need us. They need renewed hope and genuine acceptance from day one. At GiGi’s Playhouse families are never alone. From a prenatal diagnosis to career skills, we make a lifetime commitment to remain by their side. Families are empowered with all the tools their child needs to succeed! GiGi’s Playhouse serves as an inspirational and reliable place for thousands of families to celebrate their child, ALWAYS be accepted, and benefit from a lifelong commitment of FREE purposeful programs available to their children at all ages.

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