Giving Tuesday: A Time to Share Generously

By: Julia Persinger

“Get creative and think of all of the ways that you too can help in a very small or very large way. It will come back to you a hundredfold.”

After a considerable period of procrastination, I penned this on an eight-day silent Catholic Retreat at the Jesuit Center for Spiritual Growth in Wernersville, Pennsylvania, where I have gone for 17 years, beginning with a requirement for my Masters in Pastoral Ministry at Immaculate Conception Seminary School of Theology.  Seventeen years later, I am still attending an annual eight-day Silent Retreat. It is only right that I wrote my volunteer story here because it is a truly beautiful journey that began with the inspiration of God.

My husband, Joe and I moved to Annapolis five years ago. We had raised our family of three daughters and a son in Short Hills, New Jersey. We always told our children that we would give them ROOTS and WINGS. Our second daughter, Cynthia, took us literally and became a pilot after graduating from the Naval Academy. After our many trips to Annapolis, we knew we would like to settle there someday.

In 2013, Joe transferred from his law firm’s office in New York City to its office in Washington, D.C. I had retired from ministry work and was looking forward to spending more time with our six grandchildren and all that Annapolis provided—history, art, music, education, and, of course, shopping.

I got involved with New Annapolitans, which has spirited my involvement in a Book Group, a Foto Fun Group, a Walking Group, a Needle Work Group, a Gadabouts Group and so much more. My husband is the Catholic Deacon at the Naval Academy Chapel. We coordinate the Baptismal program there, a Ministry that we have coordinated in both Short Hills and Annapolis for 23 years.

Despite what most impartial observers would call a full and active life, there was still something missing–a gnawing in me that didn’t go away, and even though friends would wonder if I weren’t already fully engaged, I knew in my heart that there is always time for more if it is important.

I read (somewhere) that GiGi’s Playhouse was opening in February in Annapolis, Maryland. I thought maybe this is what I am looking for. I like to act and be on stage so this might be something new for me. As I read more, I realized that it was not a “Playhouse” for acting but the 35th GiGi’s Playhouse Down Syndrome Achievement Center in the country. But, I didn’t know anybody with Down syndrome so it couldn’t possibly be a place for me. I continued with LIFE but I kept seeing that name—GiGi’s Playhouse.

In the fall, I was on a Foto Fun tour of three churches in Annapolis, and this is where I met Judy Co who is also the mother of an academy graduate. Then, a couple of months later, I was having lunch with a group and one of them was talking about GiGi’s Playhouse opening. I got very excited and said, “I know that. That is my place.” By this time, the entire table had no idea what I was talking about. I went on to explain that I kept reading about it and for some reason, I was drawn to it. That’s when I learned that Judy Co was the new Site Coordinator. I got even more excited and said, “I know her.”

I didn’t act right away, BUT God kept nudging me to find out what opportunities there were at GiGi’s for me. That was the beginning of what I can only describe as a “Life Changing” moment or a very “Blessed” moment.  I had never really been around anyone with Down syndrome so I was a bit apprehensive. On my very first visit, my apprehension disappeared as I came off the elevator.  I fell in love with the facility the minute I arrived. It is cheerful, fun, full of color and life. As anyone who knows Judy, she is more than welcoming and passionate; these qualities radiate throughout the Playhouse space as Judy walked me around and I met a few people. She gave me some information about volunteering. I loved the place and everyone I met, but again, I wasn’t quite sure. I knew I loved children, mothers, fathers and families so I started by coming on Tuesday morning to the LMNOP (Language, Music N’ Our Peeps) Group from 10-11 am.

Julia volunteers in the LMNOP program with children infants to three years old.

At first, I was very nervous; would I say the right thing or do the right thing, or would I say something embarrassing? As I quickly learned, these families are loving parents and greatly loved babies/children. The group was phenomenal! I fell in love. I was tremendously humbled and inspired by the passion, love and tenderness these parents showered on their beautiful children.

From the families, the leader, the volunteers, the facility and the support staff, this was a very, very special place. I didn’t know exactly how or in what capacity, but I wanted to be a part of it.

Support Catching Fire

I really wanted the hands-on experience, but there were also other ways that I could be part of GiGi’s Family. One day I saw information on a 5K race (walk at your own pace!!!). Since I am in a walking group I thought I could do this. I spread the word to my husband and children that I was going to be a part of the Race (er, the Walk). As always, they are behind me in whatever I do (figuratively, not literally). My husband gave a nice donation and assured me that he would be there at the finish line with his coffee. That was all I needed to hear. Ok, I was set to go. The afternoon before the 5K, I went to pick up my Swag Bag and I was very excited. I also saw that our children all donated. I was so touched. Their emails and texts were beeping away on my phone wishing me good luck from across the country.

As I was getting dinner ready for my husband and myself, (thinking should I be carbing it up? Any excuse for pasta.), our front door opened and our youngest daughter, Valerie, walked in with her overnight bag and a big smile. She had come from Princeton, NJ to surprise me and walk the race with me. I was overwhelmed. I hope this begins to show how GiGi’s Playhouse has touched not only me but also my family and friends.

The next day was awesome. Joe, Valerie and I were up early and ready to go. It was a beautiful cool day. Everyone at the race was excited. There were families of all ages. Valerie was an incredible source of encouragement and fun. It will be something we will always remember. Thank you, GiGi’s.

Julia and her daughter Valerie support GiGi’s Playhouse by walking in the Riva 5K.

Besides the “Hands On” experience with the families, one of the incredible joys that my family and I have been able to experience is to give donations creatively to GiGi’s. Three of our couple friends were celebrating their 50th Wedding Anniversaries and we were invited to their parties. We gave a donation to GiGi’s on behalf of each couple. I sent them each a card with GiGi’s info. Each couple was so pleased and grateful for a donation in their honor. One of my dear friends and my twin sister each had their birthday in July. I donated in each of their names and they were delighted. Being a twin, I also celebrated a birthday in July. My husband and I celebrated it in New Orleans at a Conference.  Joe handed me an envelope at the end of the dinner. I opened the card and through my giggling came tears. There was a very generous check to GiGi’s. I started to cry. It was as though he had given me the largest diamond in the world.

When we returned to Annapolis, there were an array of birthday cards waiting to be opened. There was a very special one from the children and grandchildren saying that they made a donation to GiGi’s in my name.  Yup!! You got it. The tears started to flow again. My family had truly embraced my new family at GiGi’s Playhouse.

In August my husband and I invited two couples to come with us as our guests to the Baysox baseball game. We sat with the other families from GiGi’s Playhouse and were right behind home plate. We saw some great baseball and ate hot dogs together. What is better than that on a summer night? All of a sudden, my two dear friends, Juliette and Diane, handed me an envelope that contained two very generous Michaels Gift cards for GiGi’s Playhouse.

Julia, Joe, Juliette & Diane and spouses support GiGi’s by attending the Family Baseball Game Night Out Event.

I hope that you will get the sense of how much GiGi’s Playhouse has filled a hole in my otherwise very busy life–and filled it to overflowing with the radiated happiness, love and joy of the families who bring their blessed children to GiGi’s.

You can be part of GiGi’s Family too. Get creative and think of all of the ways that you too can help in a very small or very large way. It will come back to you a hundredfold.

Please donate Here.

Julia Persinger

P.S. When I told my family that I was asked to write a blog post, two of the children wanted to submit something on behalf of the family.

Julia’s Children Share in the GiGi’s Playhouse Experience

My Mom’s volunteer efforts with GiGi’s Playhouse have been an inspiration to our family. From her very first time volunteering with the organization, she has been energized by the children and families she has met, and by the opportunity to support them. I was thrilled to be able to, with coordination help from my Dad, surprise my mom to join her in walking the 5K benefitting GiGi’s. It was special to me to be able to join her in supporting such a noteworthy cause that is so important to her. I look forward to the opportunity to do so again in the future.

Valerie Persinger

My mom is one of the most selfless and generous people that I know. One of her greatest passions is serving others and moving to a new city certainly did not hinder this!  It is obvious that GiGi’s Playhouse and the families that it serves has captured a very special place in her heart.  It has been exciting and inspiring to watch as she gives her time, talent and energy to GiGi’s. Our family has been elated to support GiGi’s through monetary donations in lieu of a birthday gift for Mom and the 5K that she completed.One of the most heartwarming parts of mom’s dedication to GiGi’s is the impact it has had on my children. They have seen their grandmother hand knitting hats for GiGi’s families, supported her through the 5K and have become more aware of children with Down syndrome. This summer, their swim league had two participants with Down syndrome and it truly brought home the connection to GiGi’s as they cheered these swimmers on with the rest of the crowd.

Mom has truly embraced GiGi’s mission to educate, inspire, and believe, and it has extended to our entire family! It has been a privilege to watch and feel like we are a part of the extended GiGi’s family! We can’t wait to make a visit to GiGi’s in person!

Cynthia (Persinger) Lisa

Julia with her Daughters



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