Kim Eckert, Ex-Officio President
Kim brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise from her years of experience in the non-profit sector. Having served on several boards and also as an executive director, she has experienced various aspects of the non-profit world. In July 2016, Kim learned that her grandson, due in December 2016, would be born with an extra 21st chromosome. ” I wanted to learn as much as I could about Down syndrome so that I could support my son and his family. I attended the GiGi’s Playhouse Annapolis Believe in the Build and was immediately propelled into action”.
Kim’s grandson, Jeremiah, born in December 2016, continues to inspire her everyday. “ It is a privilege to lead our board, to open our Annapolis location and bring programs to all of our families".
Sarah Brown, President
Sarah is an attorney in Annapolis and ardent supporter of GiGi’s Playhouse. Sarah’s cousin, who is also her best friend, was born with Down syndrome and has motivated Sarah to find additional resources and programs so all individuals like her cousin receive the best education and support.
Becky Berger, Secretary
Becky was born and raised in Maryland. She currently resides near Annapolis with her husband and two children. Her Godson, Parker, has Down syndrome and his beautiful blue eyes stole her heart immediately! She feels blessed to be part of such an amazing group of people at GiGi's Playhouse Annapolis. Becky has a Bachelor of Science degree from Towson University and owns a medical billing company. In her spare time, she enjoys volunteering at her kids' school and taking her rescue dog for walks.
Dee Brant, Treasurer
Dee, born and raised in Silver Spring, Maryland and now a full-time resident of Edgewater, outside of Annapolis has been in the accounting industry for more years than she cares to remember (or admit to!). A graduate of the University of Maryland with an Accounting degree from the Smith School of Business, Dee has been actively working with both for-profit and non-profit clients. After learning in 2017 that her first grandchild would be blessed with 21 beautiful chromosomes she discovered GiGi's Playhouse one day when researching Down syndrome and trying to learn as much as she could to help, not only her beautiful granddaughter, Rosie, but her son and his wife. Rosie, born in July of 2017, is not only a blessing and a joy but has inspired Dee to reach out to help educate and inspire others in regards to learning more about Down syndrome. Rosie continues to make Dee smile!
Amanda Finnis, Events Committee Chair
Amanda resides in Riva with her husband and two children Ainsley and Taryn. She has been involved with Down Syndrome Connect since she was pregnant and found out that Ainsley has Down Syndrome. Amanda earned a degree in Elementary Education and a Reading Specialist masters degree and has her National Boards Teaching Certificate. She is excited to help plan events for GiGi's Playhouse Annapolis that spread awareness, compassion, and kindness.
Martha Nell Fox, Math Tutoring Coordinator
Martha Nell Fox, a native Hoosier, moved to Annapolis in 2008. She rounded out her 26-year teaching career with Anne Arundel County Public Schools. After her retirement in 2016, she read an article in the Capital about the grand opening of GiGi’s Playhouse and its call for volunteers. She signed up for Literacy Tutor training and began tutoring for GiGi’s in 2017. When she learned that Math Tutoring was coming to the curriculum, she expressed her delight and found her new position as Math Coordinator. She continues to tutor math and literacy, and brings her love of music into her lessons whenever possible. She says, “It is wonderfully rewarding to work beside students and their families who are so sweet, kind, and appreciative of all that GiGi’s Playhouse has to offer.”
Karen Tollestrup, Literacy Tutoring Coordinator
Karen is a transplanted Bostonian, via Hilo, Hawaii, who moved to Maryland in 2017. She is a retired speech and language pathologist, who was looking for a way to use her skills and experience while meeting new people who share her same interests. Karen attended the GiGi’s Playhouse Volunteer Orientation and immediately found a kindred spirit in GiGi’s, went up to the speaker and said, “the literacy coordinator position is right up my alley and I would like to volunteer for this position!“ and as they say, the rest is history!
Karen enthusiastically trains tutors to work with GiGi's participants and coordinates the literacy program so parents, students, and tutors are all getting their needs met. It has been a wonderful experience for Karen, for not only has she developed lifelong friendships, but has been part of a community where love and acceptance is always welcomed.
Katherine Somok, Programs Committee Chair
Katherine is the mother of four beautiful children, the third of whom has Down syndrome. She has lived her life as an educator in the broadest sense: as an elementary school teacher, an ESL teacher, a director of a tutoring/mentoring scholarship program, and most importantly, as a mother. She loves organizing and participating in events that bring communities together. Originally from the Chicagoland area, Katherine has lived in the DC metro area for over 10 years, and she and her family have been attending GiGi’s Playhouse since it opened.
Victoria Zapata, Equity & Diversity Committee
Victoria is a Howard University graduate and a Long Island transplant now living in Odenton with her husband and three children - two of which have Down syndrome. She brings over a decade of relationship building skills from the financial sector and a passion for inclusive experiences. Her first encounter with GiGi's Playhouse Annapolis was a general inquiry that ultimately led to the creation of a fashion show fundraiser which featured models from our community and raised 10k in funds for the Playhouse prior to their Grand Opening.
Stacie Hansen, Board Member
Stacie was born and raised in Maryland and currently resides on Kent Island with her husband and three children. Her daughter, Skylar, has Down syndrome and is the light of her family’s life. Stacie is passionate about raising awareness and educating others about Down syndrome. She believes Down syndrome is a gift to be celebrated.
The Playhouse family holds a very special place in Stacie’s heart. In 2017, she received a breast cancer diagnosis shortly after Skylar was born with a massive heart defect. The Playhouse provided a safe space for the family to find support, identify resources and meet new friends. Stacie and Skylar are healthy and thriving today and ready to pay it forward!
Ray Pinkham, Board Member
Ray and his wife Katie are the proud parents of three boys: Thomas, Henry and Samuel. His youngest son, Samuel, has Down syndrome and has benefited from many programs at GiGi's Playhouse since it opened. Originally from Oregon, Ray now lives in the Annapolis area and is an attorney in Washington, DC. In his spare time, Ray enjoys watching and attending Washington Nationals and Capitals games with his sons and family day trips around the DC area.
Lynne Markowitz, Outreach Committee Chair
Lynne was born and raised in New York and moved to Maryland when she accepted her first Special Education Teaching position. She has worked in the Special Education field for 40 years with her last and most rewarding position being the Program Manager for the Infants and Toddlers Program. Her passion has always been advocating for and working with children with varying special needs and their families. As a recent retiree from Anne Arundel County Public Schools, Lynne is looking forward to using her professional background to support the mission of the Playhouse and to continue to provide awareness and outreach to new families and community partners.
Marissa Kleiman, Speech Language Pathologist
Marissa earned a Bachelor’s of Science in Human Development, with honors, from Binghamton University, a Master’s of Science in Speech-Language Pathology, and an Advanced Certificate in Autism Spectrum Disorders from Brooklyn College. She is a licensed speech language pathologist in New York and Maryland and certified by the American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASHA). She previously worked at Loyola University as a clinical supervisor, mentoring graduate students pursuing a master’s degree in speech-language pathology. Prior to working at the university level, Marissa was employed in both elementary and middle schools in New York, Florida, and Maryland. Marissa has extensive experience working with students who present with a wide range of communication disorders, including language-based learning disabilities, receptive/expressive language disorders, autism spectrum disorders, speech sound disorders, pragmatic deficits, and Down syndrome. Additionally, Marissa has worked with students who struggle in the areas of reading and writing. Marissa is certified in the Orton-Gillingham Reading Program and the Compton PESL Accent Modification Program, with additional trainings in Story Grammar Marker, Lively Letters, and Social Thinking. Marissa believes in collaborating with the family and educators in the therapy process and treating the whole individual.
Marissa lives in Howard County with her husband, two children, and two pups! She enjoys spending time with family, traveling, yoga, and hiking. Marissa had the opportunity to work with GiGi’s Playhouse families last year during the launch of the Amina Grace Speech and Language Program. She is thrilled to be part of the GiGi’s Annapolis team and to work with the wonderful families!
Jennifer Craig, Fundraising Committee Chair
Jennifer resides in Pasadena with her husband Martin and four children Caitlin, Mikey, Allison, and Henry. Jennifer became involved with GiGi’s Playhouse Annapolis after receiving a pre-natal diagnosis of Down syndrome for her youngest son Henry. Jennifer has a Bachelor of Science in Business Communications and currently works as the Marketing Operations Manager at The Mom Project. Jennifer’s son Henry has benefited from the LMNOP program as well as the Amina Grace Speech and Language Program. Jennifer is very excited to join the board and use her background in marketing and event planning to help raise funds and awareness for GiGi’s Playhouse and Down syndrome.