Kim Eckert, 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, Junior Board Advisor, Attorney
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.
Florence August, Advisor
Florence August has imagined a GiGI’s Playhouse in Anne Arundel County ever since she read about GiGi’s five years ago. It has been literally around her kitchen table that a core group of dedicated volunteers have spent many hours to make this shared dream come true.
With the support of her husband, Todd, and their four children Tierney, Toby, Mary and Olivia, she has been involved with the Down Syndrome Connection for the last 10 years and is excited to see how the two organizations will complement one another in our community. The August family resides in Arnold, Maryland.
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!
Debbie Lantz, Outreach Committee Chair
Debbie has worked in health care for over 20 years and moved to Annapolis from Ellicott City, MD in June of 2018. Debbie has an adult brother, Mark, with Down syndrome who recently moved from Seattle, WA to Odenton, MD with her parents. “Our search for resources for Mark in the area led us to GiGi’s Playhouse. I can not begin to describe how important GiGi’s has been in making Mark’s transition to a new home a smooth one”. Debbie is very excited to blend her personal experience with Mark and her background in health care to promote awareness within the medical and non-medical community regarding the wonderful purposeful programs and support GiGi’s Playhouse has to offer to individuals with Down syndrome and their families.
Mary Kenion, Fundraising Committee Chair
Mary was born and raised in Washington, DC and now lives in Mayo with her wife and twin toddler sons, Mason and Mylo. Mylo was born with Down syndrome. Since their birth, Mary has been involved with organizations who advocate for and serve children or adults with intellectual and developmental differences and their parents including Special Olympics DC and the Down Syndrome Diagnosis Network. Mary has over a decade of experience in the non-profit sector working with marginalized and vulnerable individuals and families.
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.