By Lisa Custer
To say that GiGi’s Playhouse Annapolis has made a difference in my daughter’s life is the quintessential understatement. I would call GiGi’s Playhouse a literal “Godsend.”
In September of 2016, our family dynamic drastically changed. Suddenly I was a single parent. My daughter, Valerie was in her sixth season of living her dream as a member of a world champion and nationally recognized special needs all-star competitive cheerleading team, Maryland Twisters Eye of the Storm. Our lives revolved around practices, competitions, fundraisers, and travel. I was thankful that Valerie was able to stay physically active with cheerleading. She also had a core group of close friends for support. Unfortunately, being a single parent with one income took its toll on our financial situation, and at the end of cheer season, I had to give Valerie the news that we could no longer afford to return to the team for a seventh season.
I struggled to find something to take the place of cheerleading for Valerie that would work within our budget. She began to participate in more Special Olympic sports, and she took a dance class once a week. She joined the Y of Maryland to take advantage of physical fitness activities. These activities helped her to keep moving, but she lacked the opportunity to create a supportive community. I went to bed every night praying that somehow, we would find a new “family” for her.
My prayers were answered in February of 2018. We attended the grand opening of GiGi’s Playhouse, Annapolis. Valerie was treated like a VIP, and I could feel the sense of community in the room from the start. In a little over a year, Valerie has renewed old friendships with former cheerleaders, met new friends, and has become a member of an exceptional, special community. The volunteers at GiGi’s Playhouse make Valerie feel like she matters. She has learned and grown in so many ways.
Valerie is not the only one that has gained a new family. I am surrounded and supported by so many other families. I have friends that have gotten involved in supporting GiGi’s. The school where I teach now has students that have organized activities and fundraisers for GiGi’s. GiGi’s Playhouse has been able to bring so many people together for a common goal. Valerie and I are so thankful for our new family at GiGi’s Playhouse Annapolis.
Valerie enjoys GiGI’s Playhouse Annapolis Fantastic Friends adult program, Dancetastic events, PiYo fitness group, Destination Discovery program, and interning at the GAP store, not to mention the many other special events planned throughout the year. We offer programs from birth through adulthood.
Please support GiGi’s Playhouse FREE programming: donate here
Students in high school have organized activities and fundraisers for GiGi’s Playhouse. If you know a teenager in high school who would like to advocate for individuals with Down syndrome and promote acceptance in the community, GiGi’s Playhouse Youth Board is accepting applications until June 26. For an application email firstname.lastname@example.org