On March 21 we celebrate Down syndrome day. We celebrate all those born with an extra lucky chromosome. For those unfamiliar with Down syndrome there are three different variations. In a typically developing body there would be 2 copies of chromosome 21, but a person with Down syndrome has 3 number 21 chromosomes.
Down syndrome can effect one’s muscle tone, facial appearance and cause cognitive delays and more. You can read more about Down syndrome here.
In honor of World Down syndrome day I would like to highlight Gigi’s Playhouse!
In 2002 Nancy Gianni gave birth to her daughter; Gigi. Nancy was told Gigi had Down syndrome and after realizing there was so much negativity around Down Syndrome she took it upon herself to create a safe space. Gigi’s Playhouse promotes self esteem, community and the perception that a developmental variation is NOT a negative thing.
Gigi’s Playhouse does an incredible job making sure there are programs for children of all ages. There are programs that help people develop their motor skills, manage their finances and find a job.
As the children attending these programs grow-up, the community grows and the support the families have for one another is immense. With centers in over 50 locations Gigi’s is just continuing to sprout up everywhere. Though it is run by a board of directors, every program is led by volunteers. Some of these volunteers are teenagers with Down syndrome.
My experience volunteering at Gigi’s Playhouse
In March of 2019 I began volunteering at Gigi’s Playhouse in Harlem, NY. I was attending Bank Street College of Education and my advisor had helped me get a placement there in order to complete my Special Education hours.
I remember walking into Gigi’s Manhattan location and being nervous and excited about meeting the other volunteers, parents and children. I opened the door and was immediately greeted by another volunteer and this little boy with the biggest smile. He walked right up to me and put his hand up for a high-five. From that moment on I felt part of the Gigi family and started making strong bonds with everyone there.
I completed my volunteer hours that June, but I kept volunteering and even helped lead and create some curriculum packages for the LMNOP program, which catered to caregivers and little ones from birth to 36 months. I absolutely loved making connections with the volunteers, caregivers and kiddos. Unfortunately, when the pandemic hit, I had to stop volunteering as my full-time job required my full attention.
Bloomingdales Fashion Show
During my time with Gigi’s I was lucky enough to volunteer at their first fashion show presented by Bloomingdales. With 30 models ranging in age, Bloomingdales was more beautiful than ever. The crowd would stand and cheer as these rockstars walked down the isle and boy did it boost everyone’s self-confidence.
This year Gigi’s will be hosting their annual fashion show virtually on Saturday, April 30th at 1pm.
Help Gigi’s Continue to Shine
With a 99% volunteer based program, Gigi’s continues to spread awareness, community and positivity. Without their programs many children and families would still be searching for support and acceptance. On World Down syndrome Day, please make sure to show them support by sharing their website, blog, podcast or one of their social media pages.
Nancy Gianni’s Book