Our Team


Hannah Strawn, Program and Volunteer Coordinator


Hannah graduated from UNC Greensboro in December 2023 with a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish with a minor in American Sign Language and a Bachelor of Science in Speech Pathology and Audiology. She will be attending UNC Greensboro again in the Fall to begin her Master of Arts in Speech-Language Pathology. Hannah’s long-term career aspiration is to work as a Speech-Language Pathologist in a pediatric clinic with bilingual children. Hannah grew up actively involved in the Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Community because of her younger sister who was part of the community. Hannah began volunteering at GiGi’s Playhouse Charlotte in the Summer of 2023 and participated in Kid’s Kitchen, Art Explosion, and the Speech Pilot Program. Hannah’s goal while working at GiGi’s Playhouse is to enrich the experiences for every family at the playhouse.


Aysen Ulupinar, Operations Manager


Aysen Ulupinar cares deeply about helping others—which makes her a great fit for our team. Her organizational and tactical expertise contribute greatly to GiGi’s Playhouse Charlotte.

Aysen moved to from Ohio to North Carolina in 2015 with her daughter. She has an extensive background in higher education, administrative work and leadership development. She worked at UNC Charlotte, the University of Akron, and Baldwin-Wallace University prior to GiGi’s Playhouse. She also currently works as a member of the Guest Relations Staff for Bank of America Stadium (home of the Carolina Panthers and Charlotte FC) - you'll find her at the stadium for every home game, match and concert, greeting fans as they arrive! Aysen earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Human Development and Family Studies from Bowling Green State University and her Master of Education degree in Higher Education from Kent State University, both in Ohio. Aysen is a certified True Colors facilitator, REACH Ecosystem Practitioner, and has a passion for leadership development and training. She is grounded in her faith and loves to travel with her family while taking time to learn more about people. Aysen's name is pronounced Eye-Shen.


Laurie Maddex, Secretary and Literacy Coordinator

Laurie Maddex, M.Ed., is a parent advocate and a former educator. Her 10+ years of experience falls in elementary education, special education in an inclusive environment, and curriculum development. Laurie and her husband Bryan live in Waxhaw, NC, and parent four wonderfully different teen boys; two of them (Chase and Zeke) sporting extra 21st chromosomes.


Nathan Healy, Board Member

After a quick stint playing professional basketball in Europe for 2 years, Nate moved to CLT in 2015 and worked at Red Ventures for 8 years until moving to work for Palmetto Solar in 2024.

His desire to help with GiGi’s stems from his numerous interactions with the DS community and its individuals that always leave him inspired, and he wholeheartedly believed in “Acceptance for all”.

He met his wife Anna at App State, and they have 2 young children, Izzy (6) and Joe (4) who keep them busy. When it’s nice enough, you’ll find the whole crew outside somewhere, preferably on the water!


Laura Schlesing, Treasurer

Laura Schlesing joined Advocacy Trust as a Trust Officer in October 2023. Laura graduated with a Bachelor of Business Administration in trust management and a minor in financial planning from Campbell University Trust. She holds the ATFA certification and has over 15 years of experience in trust administration.

After graduating from college, Laura worked in both the personal trust and philanthropic sectors. Upon the birth of her first son, Laura decided to pursue a new career path closer to her home, leading one of Charlotte's largest child development centers. Her path took an unexpected turn when her second child was born with Down Syndrome and then diagnosed with leukemia at the age of two. Now that her boys are healthy and off to elementary and middle school, she has returned to the trust profession. Laura's mission to serve families affected by loss or adversity led her to Advocacy Trust.

Laura is active in the Charlotte community. She serves on the Levine Children's Cancer Champions Board and is Treasurer of the Board of Directors for Gigi's Playhouse Charlotte. Because of Laura's tireless efforts with the Leukemia Lymphoma Society, she was nominated to participate in their Visionary of the Year fundraiser for 2024 and is currently serving on the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation committee raising money to save lives. Laura lives with her husband of 19 years, their three sons, and two golden retrievers. When not working, Laura enjoys spending time with her family, running, dancing, and watching her boys play soccer and baseball.


Felicia Halas, Board Member

Felicia Halas is a board member here at GiGi’s playhouse Charlotte. She graduated from Wake Forest University in 2023 with a degree in mathematical statistics and a minor in computer science, and now works for Deloitte doing cybersecurity. Her hobbies include volunteering (especially with her friends at the playhouse), spending time outside with her dog, hanging out with friends and family, and doing anything active. She first got involved with GiGi's leading adult kitchen in 2022, and now she volunteers on a weekly basis. She looks forward to seeing your smiling faces in the playhouse!


Neil Foto, Board Member

Neil has lived in the Charlotte area for over 30 years and values being involved in the local community. He spent a few years working with Friendship Trays where he helped prepare, organize, and deliver meals to those in need. After receiving his MBA from Queens University, he began working for Red Ventures in the digital marketing field. After 8 years there, Neil currently works in the same field for Home Solutions. He and his wife, Caroline, love living in the town of Waxhaw, surrounded by dogs and horses.

Neil began volunteering with GiGi’s Playhouse in 2021 as a literacy tutor and has witnessed the impact that GiGi’s Playhouse has had on participants, families, and volunteers throughout the Charlotte community. He is passionate about the mission of GiGi’s Playhouse and the families it supports.


Dana Marxer, Board Member

Dana is the proud mother of 5 boys, including Christopher (who has Autism), Harrison, William, Luke, and Benjamin (who has Down Syndrome). She is an engineer turned entrepreneur, having served as an executive in multiple technology companies, and now the founder and CEO of a software company, ayeQ. Her long-time passion has been serving individuals with unique abilities, finding opportunities for them to pursue their dreams in alternative ways and contribute their gifts to society. She joined the GiGi’s board to enhance the career development opportunities for individuals with Down Syndrome and support the marketing effort to build awareness of GiGi’s Playhouse in the Charlotte area.


Eileen Walsh-Miot, Board Member

Eileen was on the start-up team for GiGi’s Playhouse Charlotte as a fundraising lead in 2018 and then served on the Board of Managers for 2 years. She has recently accepted a board member role again, with a focus on supporting families. Eileen continues to wear many hats to help keep our local GiGi’s Playhouse thriving. She has a gift for fundraising, building partnerships and family support.

Eileen received a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Purdue University and then went on to get her Masters in Social Work from Indiana University. After graduation, Eileen spent several years working with children and their families in the school, juvenile justice, and residential settings before having her own children and dedicating her life to raising them.

Eileen is the mother of two children, including her daughter, Marie-Claire, who is rockin’ our favorite extra chromosome.

When Marie-Claire was born in May of 2007, Eileen, her husband, Herve and son Sebastien (2) were living in Cebu, Philippines and were surprised by Marie-Claire’s Down syndrome diagnosis. Since Marie-Claire’s birth, Eileen found a new purpose and drive to create a world where Marie-Claire can thrive. While living in Kentucky, Washington, North Carolina and Indiana, Eileen served on multiple Down Syndrome Association boards and Catholic school inclusion committees.  She is passionate about serving once again on the board of directors for GiGi’s Playhouse Charlotte.

For Eileen and her family, the goal is not just inclusion but BELONGING. She can’t wait to help make this a reality for people with Down syndrome and other intellectual and developmental disabilities in the Charlotte area.