GiGi’s Playhouse simply does not happen with out the hundreds of volunteers who help build and run each location. Each and everyone of these people are a treasure to their Playhouse, to the individuals with Down syndrome and to the families they serve so freely.
The Definition of Volunteer.
*a person who voluntarily offers himself or herself for a service or undertaking.
*a person who performs a service willingly and without pay.
Of course we know the truth, the pay cannot be measured in a monetary value, but the pay is the fullest heart and so many lessons taught by the best of teachers.
So we wanted to find out a little more why our National Volunteers of the Year, Erin & Kim, give so generously of their time and talents to GiGi’s Playhouse Cleveland.
Of course we start with Site Coordinator, Lizz. “These two ladies came to our very first volunteer orientation and jumped right in, hearts first, into this incredible family. Erin’s passion and energy, in addition to her amazing ideas for programming, make her the perfect fit for our Program Coordinator. I am thankful for her vision and leadership. Kim is phenomenal with our volunteers and has such an ability to connect with each of them, encourage and inspire them, and help things run smoothly. She handles a gazillion questions, emails and sets up orientations on her own time when someone cannot make it to one of our scheduled ones. In addition, they are at most of our Teen Tastic and Fantastic Friends events and have developed such a wonderful relationship with our Leads and Assists and our families. The Playhouse wouldn’t be rockin’ if it wasn’t for these ladies and their selfless, genuine hearts.” Are you smiling yet? We sure are, but hang on……let’s hear from the ladies themselves.
Erin Alexeff- 2016Volunteer of the Year!
1. Why are you giving of your time & talents to GiGi’s?
There are many reasons why I am giving my time to GiGi’s Playhouse but I think the most important one is because it genuinely makes me feel good. There is just something about our playhouse that is magical- and I’m not the only one who says it! Spending time at our playhouse will totally brighten your day! I love hearing all the little giggles, getting the big warm hugs and just getting to know all of our families. It makes you forget about everything else going on in the world!
2. What inspires you to keep volunteering your time, talent and energy to make GiGi’s better?
I think watching our participants accomplish goals inspires me to make GiGi’s Playhouse better. I want to be a part of providing endless possibilities to all of our kids, adults and families.
3. How has working with GiGi’s Playhouse & individuals with Down syndrome changed your life?
Working with the all of our participants has changed my life because it has motivated me. I feel motivated to go and give MY best every day because that’s what we ask of everyone who comes into GiGi’s Playhouse- to give THEIR best.
4. Please share a few #bestofall moments from 2016!
One of my all time favorite #bestofall moments actually double dips as a #generationg moment too! We were hosting a bingo night with our Fantastic Friends and one of our adults, Grace, got bingo twice that night. She picked out two prizes and was so excited about both of them. At the end of the night, I saw a different person happily walking out the door with one of her prizes. I quickly tried to fix the situation but Grace corrected me and told me she gave her prize to that person. When I asked her why she gave away her prize she selflessly replied back, “well I had two prizes and he didn’t have any”. I couldn’t do anything but wrap her up in a hug and praise her for being so thoughtful. I felt so proud of Grace for displaying an act of kindness that make such a big impact on someone else’s day- I’m even feeling emotional thinking about it now! Grace gave her #bestofall by remembering to be accepting, generous and kind.
Kim and I are so blessed to GiGi’s Playhouse in our lives. When I take a step back to really look at how welcoming everyone has been, I get teary-eyed. Kim and I sat through our volunteer orientation less than one year ago and have been full steam ahead ever since. Thank you so much to everyone who accepts us, embraces us, and allows us to grow within the organization.
Kim Fennell, 2016 Volunteer of the Year!
1. Why are you giving of your time & talents to GiGi’s?
I had attended the first volunteer orientation held at the GiGi’s Playhouse, Cleveland location and after that first orientation, I was hooked. I have always had a passion for working with this population and am incredibly happy and thankful that I found GiGi’s. I always tell people that when I come to GiGi’s I don’t consider it “working” or even “volunteering, but that I consider it having fun! I never leave GiGi’s without a smile on my face and a new story or memory to share. I have been truly amazed by all of the achievements and accomplishments our individuals have reached so far and we haven’t even been open yet for a year! I feel honored that I am a part of this community and that I get to dedicate my time and energy to such an amazing place and inspiring individuals.
2. What Inspires you to keep volunteering your time, talent and energy to make GiGi’s better?
Every individual with Down syndrome that I get the honor to work with here at GiGi’s helps inspire me to continue volunteering here. It is amazing to see some of the things achieved here at the Playhouse and knowing that I am a part of that. I cannot wait to see all of our individuals grow as the years go on and as we develop new programs to assist their needs and interests. I cannot wait until we will someday have a GiGi U here at our Cleveland location and to see all of our individuals grow and prosper not only at the Playhouse, but in the Cleveland community as well.
3. How has working with GiGi’s Playhouse & individuals with Down syndrome changed your life
The better question would be “how hasn’t it changed my life?”. I have volunteered with individuals with Down syndrome for many years and have loved every minute of it. But there is something different about GiGi’s. There is a community and energy here that you wouldn’t understand unless you have experienced it first hand. Every time I attend a program or event I am greeted by so many smiles and hugs and it just makes my day so much better. I always look forward to spending my Friday nights at Fantastic Friends playing bingo or singing karaoke, and getting to meet new families and play with the little ones during the Open Plays. The GiGi’s Playhouse Cleveland Community has become like a family to me and I am so grateful to be a part of it all!
4. Please share a few #bestofall moments from 2016
Where to begin! There are way too many “best of all” moments here at the Playhouse to keep track of. Between our dedicated and selfless volunteers and Board Members, to our incredible Site Coordinator, Lizz, to each and every individual at the Playhouse, there is always a “best of all moment” to be witnessed. It is amazing to hear stories of one of our adults learning how to read for the first time after working with one of our tutors, or to see a child go up and proudly write their name on the white board for the first time. But one of my favorite “best of all” moments happened a few weeks ago. We had a fantastic local nonprofit called Stand Up for Downs come in and do an Improv Class with several of our adults and teens. A few of them were shy and quiet and even a little negative at the beginning of the class and did not participate much. After two hours of working with the instructor and as a team, they all got up on stage in front of their friends and families and gave their “best of all” performances. They all rocked that stage! They truly amazed me and all of the audience.
Wow! Raise your hand if these two ladies have inspired you today! Better yet, please leave them a comment! Erin and Kim, GiGi’s Playhouse is so thankful for you two. You bring passion, energy and the Generation G mission to everything you do! Keep up the great work.
If this post has inspired you to volunteer at a GiGi’s Playhouse near you please visit our Location page and make contact today!