Whenever I read that quote, I get a flutter of excitement in my stomach and a sick feeling at that same time! Absence of fear?? It was the fear of watching 17 years of groundbreaking work crumble that propelled me to action throughout 2020 and catapulted us into 2021! When people were talking about binge-watching this or that, I was like, ‘I just want to get a minute to go to the bathroom!’ When COVID hit and we had to cancel 4,400 hours a week of FREE in-person therapeutic and educational programs at over 50 GiGi’s Playhouse locations across the country, my heart about stopped! Then, when we had to cancel the 50+ fundraising events that paid for these free programs and accounted for 76% of our Q2 revenues, I was physically overcome with anxiety.
Then came a crazy calm. A feeling of calm I cannot explain. This is it. This is what we have been preparing for over the last 17 years…sustainability against all odds.
We have built a replicable and sustainable business model that gives everything away for free. We had no choice but to make it sustainable, despite being in a pandemic! It was our core values and our lifetime commitment to our families that constantly propelled us to action. We could not let them down. With multiple locations opening every year and a 35% growth rate in families served, we operate in constant “start-up” mode and we would not have it any other way. It was that determination and innovation that drove our pivot. Leadership began to meet every morning to ensure ongoing success and to serve our playhouse network and our families when they needed us most. This was a true test of our commitment, and we were ready.
With a workforce of over 10,000 across the US and Mexico (and 99% of them volunteers), we had to build a strong infrastructure and the ability to communicate remotely. We are the parent company and must make all the tools for our locations easily accessible. We built training platforms, databases, fundraising platforms, apps, curriculums, templates, help desks, shared drives, and everything else needed to serve our playhouse network so they can serve their families. All of this was built for the sustainability of our business, and when COVID hit, it was time to leverage it to the max when the unthinkable happened.
Our action plan!
Before COVID, we were in two countries. Now, since we have continued to evolve, we are currently serving families in 45 countries (February 2021) across the world because of our GiGi’s at Home virtual education platform launched within 13 days of shutdown. Talk about a COVID silver lining!
We have continued to innovate through 2020 and into 2021 with the launch of our new Learning Management System, My GiGi’s app, our LIVE streaming events, our Artificial Intelligence projects with Microsoft, our partnership with Bain New York, and our new GiGi’s recording studio! In fact, we are even sharing our inspiration and drive in a new video podcast – A Little Something Extra – co-hosted by The GiGi, the first person with Down syndrome to co-host a video podcast! We all have that “little something extra” within us…sometimes we just have to find it! That is what the podcast is about! It is the part of you that fuels your passion and motivation. We like to call it your superpower! But if you want to grow yourself in any way, this is the podcast to check out! Go take a look!
As we move forward in 2021, I stand by our core values, I stand by our promise of a lifetime commitment to our families, and I stand by our commitment to change the way the world sees Down syndrome and send a global message of acceptance for all! Individuals with disabilities may not be on the top of people’s causes these days, but they should be. They are the largest minority in the world, and we have so much to learn from them. Just as my fear of the pandemic propelled me to action, my fear at the lack of respect for my child and all people with disabilities will continue to propel me to action! I pray for the day when people stand up for those with disabilities in the same way they should step up for other marginalized populations. I yearn to see the day when people stand up for what is right not just for what is popular at that time.
I think being in constant start-up mode and not being government-funded has kept us scrappy because we must be sustainable on our own! We have Angel Investors who are PROUD of us and proud of their return on investment! It is their belief that gives us the courage to face head-on every obstacle put in our way! I owe the illusion of the “absence of fear” to every one of them and to every person living with a disability who faces the world head-on every day, against all odds. Your strength fuels me to help make this world a better place for them. I promise we will never stop, and I hope our accomplishments in 2020 and into 2021 have shown that we are meant to be here! We are not a “pat-on-the-head” charity, we are an innovative and sustainable entity that is changing the world!