Not Just An Amazing Building
I look back on my first visit to GiGi’s Playhouse in Indianapolis, IN and what sticks with me most is what I felt while I was there. We started looking into whether GiGi’s would be something worth venturing into bringing to Cincinnati, so we decided to visit. It was an average summer Saturday. We were just learning about what GiGi’s is and what it had to offer but was not expecting what we experienced.
I was the first to arrive and did not pack the family along so I could concentrate on learning, questioning, and finding out what the struggles were. I was apprehensive because it’s a big project and we already had so many great things in Cincinnati. As I pulled up, it looked just like the pictures on the internet, no surprises there. It was amazing to see all the huge pictures of the individuals with Ds in the windows. You can see the pride of the Ds community in the faces on the windows. What was inside the doors is what really blew me away.
As I looked around, I saw bright colored walls, a couch, bookshelf loaded with books, a stage, a play area for young children, and the kitchen. This was all just for individuals with Down syndrome and their families. This big beautiful space had so many uses. There was more around the corner, but I didn’t venture on yet. I just took it in. What I first felt was comfort, warmth, and overall joy. It was welcoming but also gave me a sense of security. When the people started showing up, it started to come alive.
Volunteers and adult participants for the cooking program began to fill the kitchen area. I would also note majority of the participants did have Ds, there were also a few individuals with different abilities in the mix. As they were all continuing to prep in the kitchen area, another young boy came in for 1:1 speech therapy. He went into the therapy room with the therapist and his father. Then the rest of my crew showed up with their families and children. You would think, that’s more than this place could handle, but they all worked and played and discovered without getting in the way of each other. The young kids played on the toys and play yard, the adults continued to cook in the kitchen, and the young boy and his father seemed to be working hard in the therapy room unknowing of all the chatter and movement going on outside of their room. Another group of volunteers were putting together bikes for a future program. A lot was going on.
We were given a tour by the intern. She was a college student who started with GiGi’s as a volunteer. She had no prior attachment to anyone with Ds before starting to volunteer there and learned about GiGi’s through an internet search looking for places to volunteer. Could you imagine GiGi’s being your first impression on individuals with Ds? What a wonderful first impression it made. She said she learned that individuals with Ds are more alike than different and would call the people she had met at GiGi’s her friends. She also bragged about the programs she was helping with the most, preschool prep and kindergarten prep. She commented administrators from the schools were coming in to observe because the kids who went through those programs were doing so much better with the transition to preschool and kindergarten than typical kids! Amazing, right?!
The intern showed us the entire building, from the bathrooms to the Gym, climbing wall, ball pit, GiGi U room and all I could do was just get more and more excited about the possibilities of this in Cincinnati. During the tour, I probably cried, laughed, but mostly smiled. One of my friends exclaimed, “we need this in Cincinnati!” I was so impressed by everything I experienced; I couldn’t agree more. I could imagine each person that was present had a story about how GiGi’s has changed their life or created opportunities that were not there before. I could only imagine the stories that could come from a location in Cincinnati. Week after week, the doors are open and researched-based programs are there and 100% FREE for families. Week after week, the families that come are developing friendships, getting useful resources, and getting this amazing feeling. It was so much more than just an amazing building, just a play area, just a community room, just a kitchen. It was an experience.
If you have the opportunity to visit a GiGi’s Playhouse, whether it is something you think you like or not, do it! Go in with all your skepticism. I did, and I came out a true believer in GiGi’s Playhouse.