Who We Are

Our spectacular site manager

Elizabeth-Hardesty

Elizabeth Hardesty

Elizabeth is our wonderful site manager. In this role, Elizabeth manages all aspects of the GiGi’s Playhouse location in Cincinnati. This includes facility and equipment management, family engagement, managing volunteers, delivering communications, community outreach, assisting with events and fundraisers and more.

Elizabeth lives in the Oakley area of Cincinnati, but she’s originally from California.

Elizabeth is so excited to help get GiGi’s Playhouse Cincinnati off the ground as our site manager. She says, “I have a heart for people with Down syndrome, and I want them to know how precious and truly valuable they are. I’m so excited to come to work every day and do something meaningful. It’s an incredible honor to work with our families and children to deliver the message of ‘acceptance for all.’ I’m driven by the belief that everyone deserves to be treated with love and respect. My door is always open, so never hesitate to reach out!”

Our excellent executive board members 

Amy-&-Kennedy

Amy Pennington - President

Amy is the fearless leader of the GiGi’s Playhouse Cincinnati startup team. She also serves as our board president. 

Amy lives in Cincinnati with her husband Adam and their three children: Gage (14), Kyle (11) and Kennedy (9). Kennedy has Down syndrome; she’s the reason that Amy is so passionate about bringing GiGi’s Playhouse to Cincinnati. 

Professionally, Amy has an undergraduate degree in psychology, earned her MBA, graduated from the Ohio State Highway Patrol Academy and now works as a police sergeant at UC Health Hospital. 

When she’s not working in law enforcement, Amy is working tirelessly to open GiGi’s Playhouse Cincinnati for the benefit of her daughter Kennedy and so many other people with Down syndrome in and around Cincinnati. Amy and Kennedy frequently visit GiGi’s Playhouse in Indianapolis and take advantage of their tutoring programs, including literacy and math. Amy says that ever since their first visit to GiGi’s Playhouse in Indianapolis, Kennedy constantly asks when they can go back! Because covid has put restrictions on in-person tutoring, Kennedy currently enjoys learning through GiGi’s At Home programs. 

When asked about why she is so passionate about bringing GiGi’s Playhouse to Cincinnati, Amy says, “I want Kennedy to have more opportunities to be her best self. Having a place that provides the consistent, high-quality programming for all ages is something that families need. What I really love about GiGi’s Playhouse is the way that natural mentorships develop between the older and younger kids with Down syndrome. I love that Kennedy will have someone that looks like her and understands her who can help her—and I love knowing that as Kennedy gets older, she can be looked up to by another child with Down syndrome. People with Down syndrome need a place that’s just for them—a place where they belong. They need to be in the community and valued. The community needs to learn from our kids as much as we have learned from them. Once GiGi’s Playhouse opens in Cincinnati, it will probably become our second home! We plan to do all the programs we can and help develop more purposeful programs for families. I can’t wait to go—not only for ourselves, but also to see how it changes lives for others in the community.” 

Check out Amy’s Believe in Our Build fundraising page here. 

christine

Christine Veotte – Vice President

Christine Veotte serves on our outreach committee and she’s also our board vice president.
Christine lives in the Montgomery area with her husband Angelo (who is also on our start-up team) and their three kids: Adam (15), Elli (13) and Selah (8). Selah has Down syndrome. Christine is originally from the Seattle area but moved to Cincinnati six years ago for her husband’s job at Procter & Gamble.

Christine currently works part-time as a preschool teacher. She became involved in the GiGi’s Playhouse Cincinnati startup team because of her positive experiences at the GiGi’s Playhouse locations in Indianapolis and Chicago.

When asked about her passion for bringing GiGi’s Playhouse to Cincinnati, Christine says, “I found out that Selah had Down syndrome when I was twenty weeks pregnant. I was overwhelmed and scared of the unknown. I look back now and I so wish that I had a place like GiGi’s Playhouse where I could have gone. I want GiGi’s Playhouse in Cincinnati so that Selah has a place to go for acceptance, community and free programs, such as math and literacy tutoring. Our whole family will be involved with GiGi’s Playhouse once it opens! Selah will attend programs and my older children can volunteer. It’s so important that my kids all understand that we are part of a larger community and that we should help and serve each other. It makes me so happy that we’re opening our Cincinnati location soon so that we can help more families connect and have a place to come together as a community.”

Check out Christine’s Believe in Our Build fundraising page here.

fred

Fred Brushaber – Treasurer

Fred is a member of our outreach committee, co-chair of the Brew HaHa and also serves as our board treasurer.
Fred lives in the Anderson area with his husband Mark (also a member of our startup team) and their one-year-old son, Freddy, who has Down syndrome. Fred is originally from Michigan but recently moved to Cincinnati for Mark’s job. Fred went to engineering school and law school and now works as a patent examiner for the federal government.

Fred and Mark’s family grew through surrogacy. They received Freddy’s Down syndrome diagnosis at birth. Fred is very excited to help out with diversity and inclusion and to see GiGi’s Playhouse come to Cincinnati. He says, “I want my son and those like him to reach their full potential and have a community hub. All the programs at GiGi’s Playhouse are tailored to people with Down syndrome to help them unlock their full potential. I can’t wait to use the quality programing to help Freddy be the best version of himself. It’s so important for everyone to have a place to call their own and where they can be themselves. GiGi’s Playhouse Cincinnati will give people with Down syndrome that place.”

Check out Fred’s Believe in Our Build fundraising page here.

Ann-Q-&-A

Ann Poirier – Secretary

Ann is on our marketing committee and she’s also our board secretary.
Ann lives in Cincinnati with her husband Tim and their four kids: Lucille (6), Alice (3), Calvin (2) and Peter (newborn). Alice was diagnosed with Down syndrome at birth. Before she had kids, Ann worked in journalism. Now, she’s a stay-at-home mom who does a lot of freelance writing, including most of the writing for GiGi’s Playhouse Cincinnati. She also writes a blog that educates people about Down syndrome and has an Instagram account (@wonderlandmommyblog) that celebrates the blessing of Down syndrome.

Ann says that she’s most excited about the sense of community that GiGi’s Playhouse Cincinnati will bring to the city. She explains, “I joined the startup team because I’m always trying to do anything I can to give Alice more resources and advocate for her more. I love learning about Down syndrome and contributing however I can. I also love using my writing talent to write blogs, articles and more to help highlight the beauty of Down syndrome and the need for acceptance and inclusion. I’m excited for GiGi’s Playhouse to be in Cincinnati because I love the idea of Alice being able to go there and see other kids like her. Just as importantly, I’m really excited for my other kids to go there and benefit from being surrounded by people different than themselves. I had the honor of meeting Nancy and GiGi a few years ago, and their energy and passion is completely inspiring. It will be so great to have that here in our amazing city.”

Check out Ann’s Believe in Our Build fundraising page here.

Our amazing additional board members

Pam

Pam Carver

Pam helps on our fundraising and events committee.

Pam lives on the West Side of Cincinnati. She’s married to her husband Joe and together they have five grown children. Pam has a 3-year-old granddaughter named Journee, who has Down syndrome. Originally from Las Vegas, Nevada, Pam moved to Cincinnati upon the recommendation of Journee’s doctors.

Retired from event planning, Pam now spends most of her time advocating for Journee and the Down syndrome community. She says, “I got involved with GiGi’s Playhouse Cincinnati to help give Journee every opportunity for a great life. I want to learn all I can and help with whatever I can for her. GiGi’s Playhouse Cincinnati will be a great resource to help Journee and other people with Down syndrome.”

anna

Anna Shelton

Anna serves on our board and helps on our facility search committee.

Anna is originally from Oregon and now lives in Anderson with her husband Dan and four daughters. Their two-year-old daughter, Izzy, has Down syndrome. Anna also works at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in the emergency department as a registered nurse.

Anna is excited to get involved with GiGi’s Playhouse Cincinnati. She says, “I’m a board member for GiGi’s Playhouse Cincinnati because I’m very interested in the possibilities for this organization and how it can benefit all people in our community who have Down syndrome and even those who have yet to be born! Once our doors open, I plan to use the space and programs as a place for our daughter to gain life skills, feel safe and make close friends.”

Check out Anna’s Believe in Our Build fundraising page here.

Our awesome advisory board members

angelo

Angelo Veotte

Angelo serves on the advisory board for GiGi’s Playhouse Cincinnati.
Angelo is originally from South Africa but moved to the United States in 2010. He lives in the Montgomery area and works at Procter & Gamble. Angelo and his wife Christine (who is also on our startup team) have three children: Adam (15), Elli (13) and Selah (8). Selah has Down syndrome.

Angelo is excited to bring GiGi’s Playhouse to Cincinnati. He says, “My hope is to create a sustainable organization that can be a home away from home for families and children with Down syndrome.”

Check out Angelo’s Believe in Our Build fundraising page here.

KMDpicture

Kevin Dineen

Kevin serves on the advisory board for GiGi’s Playhouse Cincinnati.

Kevin is a corporate attorney who has been practicing law in the Greater Cincinnati area for more than 15 years. He and his wife Susan have two children, one of whom has Down syndrome.

Dan

Dan Shelton

Dan serves on the advisory board for GiGi’s Playhouse Cincinnati.

Dan lives in the Anderson area and works in management at Total Quality Logistics. He and his wife Anna have four girls. One of their daughters, two-year-old Izzy, has Down syndrome.

Dan is excited to spend a lot of time at GiGi’s Playhouse Cincinnati when it opens. He explains, “I’m looking forward to a GiGi’s location nearby for my daughter Izzy. As she gets older, I hope that it’s a place where she can learn, feel safe, make new friends and gain life skills.”

Nicole

Nicole White

Nicole helps with events for GiGi’s Playhouse Cincinnati.
Nicole works for Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, consults with Down Syndrome Achieves and volunteers for the Special Olympics. She recently earned her PhD.

Nicole has four children, one of whom has Down syndrome.

photo-Gretchen-Carroll-(1)

Gretchen Carroll

Gretchen serves on the advisory board for GiGi’s Playhouse Cincinnati.

Gretchen also works as the clinical special educator and school liaison for the Thomas Center for Down Syndrome at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. Gretchen has worked as a clinical special educator, learning specialist and school consultant for more than 25 years. During this time, she has worked with hundreds of children and schools to improve outcomes for children with Down syndrome. Gretchen lives in Cincinnati and is married with four young adult children.

Gretchen is thrilled that GiGi’s Playhouse is now in Cincinnati and that she is able to serve on our advisory board. She says, “I’m excited to be part of an organization that shares my vision of celebrating and encouraging individuals with Down syndrome.”

MarkW

Mark Wiehe

Mark serves on the advisory board for GiGi’s Playhouse Cincinnati.

Mark is married to his wife Karen and together they have four children. Their daughter, Becca, has Down syndrome. Lighting up when he talks about Becca, he says, “Having a child with Down syndrome has made us a better family and me a better person.” Mark also works at Huntington Bank and is a part owner of Bishop’s Quarter.

Mark looks forward to serving on the advisory board and making a difference. He explains, “I’m excited to be part of an organization with programs supporting the Down syndrome community, especially the platform created for kids and adults to develop their social skills and create friendships.”

Matt

Matt Lumb

Matt serves on the advisory board for GiGi’s Playhouse Cincinnati.

Matt was born and raised in Australia but now lives in the United States with his wife Alison and their four children. He got involved with GiGi’s Playhouse Cincinnati because one of his good friends has a child with Down syndrome.

Matt is happy to contribute to the advisory board of GiGi’s Playhouse Cincinnati for many reasons. He explains, “Each person with Down syndrome that I’ve met seems to have a keen sense of humor and they’re so giving of themselves to encourage others. I’m excited to be on the advisory board of GiGi’s Playhouse Cincinnati so I can bring ideas and contribute to an organization that will have such a big impact on so many families in our Cincinnati community!”

Our outstanding other team members

Erin Truter

Erin is our volunteer coordinator. This is a HUGE role on our team because we are 99% volunteer-run -- and Erin manages all of those key volunteers.

Erin and her husband Garth share two sons, Seth and Joel. Although Erin does not have a family member with Down syndrome, she says, "I've had friends throughout my life who have Down syndrome. I love their unique personalities! I'm so excited to be part of an organization that encourages their development and community interaction."

If you would like to volunteer for GiGi's Playhouse Cincinnati, please email Erin at etruter@gigisplayhouse.org.

Nate

Nate Beebe

Nate is our program leader for GiGiFIT Adult (our fitness program for adults with Down syndrome).

Nate lives in Cincinnati with his wife Maia and their dog Cooper. Nate works as a certified personal trainer at D1 Training. It was there that Nate was introduced to the Special Olympics and learned more about working with people with Down syndrome. Nate explains, "I love working out and helping people with whatever goals they have. Being a personal trainer, I can do both. By volunteering at GiGi's Playhouse Cincinnati, I'm excited to help people with Down syndrome be able to live healthier lives."

To learn more about our fitness programs at GiGi's Playhouse Cincinnati, please email Nate at nate.beebe@d1training.com.

Jenna

Jenna Townsend

Jenna is the assistant coach for our GiGiFIT Adult program.

Jenna works as a personal trainer. She knew about GiGi's Playhouse because she has a lot of friends who have Down syndrome. Combining her love of health with her love of people with Down syndrome led her to volunteer at GiGi's Playhouse Cincinnati in our fitness program.

Jenna says, "I have always loved to help people. Initially, I wanted to be a nurse to help people, but then I found that I wanted to help prevent people from having to go to the hospital. I knew that personal training was the perfect way for me to help people achieve healthier lifestyles. By volunteering at GiGi's Playhouse Cincinnati, I'm excited to help people with Down syndrome create a life where they can achieve anything!"

Jessica

Jessica Berndt

Jessica helps on our fundraising and events committee. She’s also the co-chair for our Brew HaHa.

Jessica is originally from Cleveland, Ohio and now lives in Dayton, Ohio. She’s a clinical and school psychologist who currently works in a small private practice. She and her husband David have two kids: Freddy (2) and Theo (baby). Freddy has Down syndrome.

Jessica spends a lot of her time advocating for Freddy and all those with Down syndrome and engaging with new moms of babies with Down syndrome. Although she has never been to a GiGi’s Playhouse in person, she and Freddy love the online programs. Freddy’s favorite program is LMNOP. Jessica says, “I can’t wait to have GiGi’s Playhouse in Cincinnati because I want more resources for our community and to do what I can to help increase Down syndrome awareness and acceptance.”

Check out Jessica’s Believe in Our Build fundraising page here.

mark

Mark Grice

Mark is a member of our fundraising and events committee.

Mark and his husband Fred (who is also on our startup team) live in the Anderson area with their one-year-old son Freddy who has Down syndrome. Mark is originally from Toledo, Ohio, but recently moved to Cincinnati for his job.

Mark is eager to have a GiGi’s Playhouse in Cincinnati. He says, “Ever since we got Freddy’s Down syndrome diagnosis when he was born, we have tried to connect with resources and learn what success looks like. We’ve learned that people with Down syndrome thrive when there’s a community of support around them. Freddy’s supportive community will include GiGi’s Playhouse Cincinnati, the Thomas Center at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Cincinnati, early intervention (Help Me Grow) and his loving family. Having a GiGi’s Playhouse in Cincinnati will give people with Down syndrome a home base to learn, grow and be social through the free programs for all ages. I’m looking forward to using the quality programming from GiGi’s Playhouse Cincinnati to help Freddy become the best version of himself.”

Check out Mark’s Believe in Our Build fundraising page here.

Shelly

Shelly Capal

Shelly is a volunteer for GiGi’s Playhouse Cincinnati.

Shelly is a mom and grandma. One of her grandchildren, Cooper, has Down syndrome. He received his Down syndrome diagnosis when Shelly’s daughter-in-law was 20 weeks pregnant. Shelly is excited to learn more about Down syndrome and get more involved with GiGi’s Playhouse Cincinnati.

Check out Shelly’s Believe in Our Build fundraising page here.

leah

Leah Kemper

Leah helps plan our events and also serves as our grant writer.

Leah is originally from Kentucky and now lives in Sunman, Indiana. She’s currently a college student at the University of Indiana and majoring in microbiology. Leah works in a research lab and also as a medical scribe in IU’s emergency department.

Leah got involved with the GiGi’s Playhouse Cincinnati startup team after having gone to school with a few people with Down syndrome. She says, “I want a GiGi’s Playhouse in Cincinnati so that individuals with Down syndrome can have a safe place filled with love and acceptance and so they can receive all the resources they need to succeed.” Leah says she’s looking forward to volunteering her time at the Cincinnati Playhouse as soon as it opens.

Want to join our amazing team?

We’re always looking for people who are passionate about Down syndrome and have a desire to make this world a better place. If you can volunteer your time on the GiGi’s Playhouse Cincinnati startup team, please click here.