When my nephew Shane was born it felt like a solemn occasion. I remember visiting with my brother and sister in law in the hospital and not knowing what to say to reassure them that it was going to be okay. We both had 3 year-old daughters and you could sense they were not getting the usual fanfare that comes with the birth of a child. I remember telling friends my nephew had Down syndrome as it if was something awful. I only knew the negative and nothing about what a blessing these children can truly be.

As a mom to a 3-year old girl at the time, I got caught up in the usual mommy chatter around milestones – who was doing what and when and if your child wasn’t walking, talking, potty trained (fill in the blank) there’s something wrong with him or her or you’re not doing enough as a mom. Well my nephew stopped me in my overachieving mommy tracks. He showed me that everyone can get where they need to be on their own timeline and it’s okay. And he introduced my family to a community of people that I continue to be amazed by every day.

We only got to spend 4 years with my beautiful godson as he passed away on June 12, 2012. But I made him a promise that day to honor his memory and stay connected to the Ds community. I had a 6 year-old and 2 year-old twins at the time so I had no idea how or what I was going to do, but I knew I was not going to let him down because he had made such an impact in my life.

Well, it took me a few years, but I finally found the connection. I first heard about GiGi’s Playhouse after someone forwarded me a link to a Danceathon fundraiser a college was doing to support a GiGi’s Playhouse in Illinois. I was so moved with the Playhouse and its mission that I immediately went to see if there was one in New Jersey where I was living at the time. Unfortunately, there wasn’t, but when I moved to Charlotte a few years later I found a start-up in the works and they were looking for some marketing/public relations support and the rest as they say is history.

I believe in GiGi’s Playhouse because I can see how much Shane would have benefited from having a place where he would be celebrated and given the opportunity to reach his full potential. My family would have been welcomed and provided with a support system.

The one thing that always sticks with me is that my children never questioned if there was something different about Shane, but only wanted to know why he had a walk every year and they didn’t! My hope is that the rest of world sees past the diagnosis too and moves towards acceptance. GiGi’s Playhouse is here to help us all see the beauty and potential and not the stigma of Ds and I am so fortunate to get to work with this wonderful organization.

-Denise Faulkner, GiGi’s Playhouse Charlotte Board Member + Friend

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