Home  |  Blog  |  Store  |  National HQ  |  Contact Us 

Our Team

President: Jessica Allen

Treasurer: Jennifer Sedlak

Secretary: Shanique Herbert

Additional Board Members and Committee leads:

Outreach: Laurie Maddex

Marketing & Communications: Denise Faulkner

Parent’s Council: Lindsy Maners

Site Coordinator: Melissa Buczek

Volunteer Coordinator + New Family Coordinator: Kelly Caskey

Medical Outreach: Philip Roehrs

Events Lead: Danielle Fletcher

Fundraising: Eileen Walsh-Miot

GiGiFIT Program Coordinator: Ashley Heiligenstadt

Social Media Manager: Melissa Maxwell


Jessica Allen, PhD, President


Jessica relocated to Charlotte in early 2017 and was immediately focused on opening a GiGi’s Playhouse. She is a Co-Founder of GiGi’s Playhouse Charlotte and the current board President. Previously, Jessica spent 10+ years in academic medicine. She holds a PhD in Immunobiology and trained at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University where she published several high-profile manuscripts. She is a well-respected professional with extensive grant writing experience. Her advocacy for individuals with Down syndrome began with the birth of her first son, Everett. She is extremely passionate about what he and others with Down syndrome can achieve. Jessica was able to witness firsthand the life-changing impact of a playhouse when GiGi’s Playhouse Raleigh opened during her son’s first year of life. She feels truly privileged to work alongside this team to bring free educational, therapeutic and career development programs to the Greater Charlotte Down syndrome community.

Jen Sedlak

Jennifer Sedlak, Treasurer

Jennifer Sedlak lives in Charlotte with her fiancé Jeff and yellow lab Chelsea. She is originally from Ohio where she earned her Bachelor of Science in business from Miami University. Jennifer joined Wells Fargo in 2011 where she currently works as a COO within the Corporate & Investment Banking Team.

Jennifer first learned of GiGi’s Playhouse through her uncle Brian, an Honorary Board Member in Cleveland, and feels fortunate to be a part of a team looking to bring that level of joy and passion to families in Charlotte!


Shanique Herbert, Secretary


Shanique Herbert is originally from the Midwest and now resides in Fort Mill, SC with her husband Jason and their two sons, Andrew (6) and Austin (2). She is a graduate of Florida Gulf Coast University with a degree in Business Management. Shanique has worked in Banking and Health Care Administration Industries and is now a stay-at-home mom. Her youngest son Austin was diagnosed with having Down syndrome at birth. After the birth, Shanique felt compelled to raise more awareness and decided to dive right into being an active member in the DS community. Prior to moving to the Carolinas in June of 2017 with her family, she lived in Fort Myers, FL where she assisted in the start-up of GiGi’s Playhouse Fort Myers. The mission of GiGi’s is what led her to get involved with GiGi’s Playhouse and she is excited for the opportunity it will bring to her son and

other families in the Greater Charlotte community. Down syndrome has been a rebirth for her family, for herself, and hopefully for everyone following along with them!


Laurie Maddex, Community Outreach


Laurie Maddex has been in and around the Down syndrome community in several different capacities since her son, Chase, was born in 2007 and was diagnosed with Ds and Hirschsprung’s Disease. She and her husband, Bryan, immediately jumped in- volunteering with the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Charlotte and investigating every possible outlet for learning about Ds. Their Down syndrome journey didn’t stop there, but led them to Ukraine in 2011, where they adopted their son Zeke at age 4 ½.

She is a certified elementary and special education teacher, spending 10+ years in the elementary classrooms in Florida and in Union County, NC, focusing on inclusion of students with exceptional needs, and later writing mathematics curriculum and coaching/training the UCPS elementary educators.

Presently, Laurie juggles motherhood with 4 boys, working as a Loan Originator for Amerifirst Home Mortgage, giving back to the Ds community through IEP advocacy and teacher/parent support, and now connecting the residents and businesses of the Charlotte area to GiGi’s Playhouse.


Denise Faulkner, Marketing/Public Relations


Denise Faulkner relocated to the Charlotte area with her husband and three children in July of 2016. She has more than 15 years of experience in corporate communications working primarily in the financial services and insurance industries. Earlier in her career, Denise worked in public relations where she provided a wide range of companies with media relations and communications support.

Since her nephew Shane was born, Denise has been looking for an opportunity to lend her skillset and support to the DS community. Shortly after moving to Charlotte she was excited to learn of the plans for a local GiGi’s Playhouse and signed up to volunteer.

Denise looks forward to building relationships within the local community and raising awareness and support for GiGi’s Playhouse Charlotte and individuals with Down syndrome.


Lindsy Maners, Parent’s Council


Lindsy has called Charlotte home for nearly 30 years. When her son, Branson, was born 9 years ago, she decided to step away from her corporate sales and marketing career to stay at home and raise him. Lindsy is actively involved in fundraising, event planning and community outreach for several local non-profit organizations. She has been heavily involved in the Down syndrome community since Branson's birth including participation in social and educational events, fundraising and increasing parental connectivity. Lindsy is passionate about advocacy, spreading awareness and acceptance, and is very excited for the many opportunities GiGi’s Playhouse has to offer the community. She looks forward to acting as a liaison between GiGi’s Playhouse and the families it serves.


Melissa Buczek, Site Coordinator


Melissa has been a resident of Charlotte since 2012. She has been on the Gigi’s Playhouse Charlotte board since its inception; previously she focused on events but she is now stepping into her role as Site Coordinator. Melissa holds a BA in linguistics and has a decade of experience in education including 6 years as a teacher at various CMS schools and two and a half years as an English teacher in South Korea. During her time in South Korea Melissa was recognized nationally for her success in planning lessons for early elementary students.

Melissa is a visionary; in addition to her role in opening Gigi’s Charlotte, Melissa founded an annual international festival at South Mecklenburg High School, she directed the first musical production in more than 15 years at Garinger High School, and she co-founded a still-active ballroom dance club at her alma mater. Melissa’s first son, William, was diagnosed with Down syndrome shortly after he was born in 2016. That was the beginning of a journey that has led her to become a passionate advocate for individuals with special needs in the Charlotte community. She has a second son, Matthew, who was born in 2017. Melissa is thrilled to be a part of the Gigi’s Charlotte team and cannot wait to see the positive impact she knows GiGi’s Playhouse will have in Charlotte.


Kelly Caskey, Volunteer Coordinator + New Family Coordinator


Kelly Caskey lives in Tega Cay, SC with her husband Josh and five children: Brianna (17), Joshua (15), Faith (10), Alexander (8) and Brynlee (2). Her youngest daughter, Brynlee, had a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome and inspires Kelly’s passion to help families with similar experiences. The DS community has provided guidance and support to the Caskeys and Kelly is driven to extend GiGi's mission to the community by empowering those with DS and their families. Kelly enjoys spending time outdoors with her family and offering support to others.


Philip Roehrs, MD, Medical Outreach


Philip is the Medical Director of Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplant at Levine Children’s Hospital. He was drawn to a career in pediatrics, in large part, due to his early childhood experiences with Down syndrome. As someone who has always had the privilege of caring for children, Philip was extremely impressed with the mission of GiGi’s Playhouse. He had the honor of attending the Raleigh Playhouse with his son and is committed to the success of a Playhouse here in Charlotte. Philip also serves on the board of Project Life Movement, a non-profit organization in Charlotte, whose mission is to increase the number of donors in bone marrow registries.


Danielle Fletcher, Events Lead


Danielle is married and the mother of a beautiful energetic daughter. She has lived in Charlotte for nineteen years and is proud to call the Queen City home. Danielle has a heart to help and to give to others; volunteering has been a part of her life since she was young.

Danielle was motivated to volunteer at GiGi’s Playhouse with the desire to work with an organization whose vision and mission resonated with her own beliefs and with the hope to support and assist families of children and loved ones with Down syndrome. She has over 15 years of event and meeting planning experience and is passionate to inspire others to celebrate life. She is thrilled to bring her passions, gifts and talents to GiGi’s Playhouse as the Events Lead.

Kelly and Paris Bio

Paris Harrell, Program Coordinator

Paris has been in Charlotte for almost 3 years now, moving here from Birmingham, Alabama to teach 3rd grade with Teach for America! She finished her two-year commitment and now serves as the Inquiry-Based Learning teacher at Windsor Park Elementary School. Inquiry-Based Learning is a course that she developed that focuses on identity, culture, environment and social change.

Upon arriving in Charlotte she was eager to find the love and community so easily found when interacting with individuals with Down syndrome. Her search led her to GiGi’s Playhouse and she is thrilled to be working as program coordinator!

Back in Birmingham, Paris worked at The Horizons School, a transitional school preparing young adults with learning difficulties for an independent life. She lived on site, planned community and social outings, revised curriculum, and led yoga. She was also a founding member and helped launch the Best Buddies Chapter at the University of Alabama at Birmingham where she served as Activities Coordinator and President for 4 years. Ever since Paris was a little girl, her spirit has been drawn to individuals with Down syndrome. She has seen the power they have to make a difference and has felt the joy they bring whenever they enter a room. She cannot wait to help provide and plan programs that will empower the Down syndrome community to reach their fullest potential.


Eileen Walsh-Miot, Fundraising

Eileen Walsh-Miot is a Chicago native who relocated to Charlotte with her family in 2014. Eileen has been passionate about celebrating the joys of parenting a child with Down syndrome since her daughter, Marie-Claire, was born in 2007. She and her husband, Herve, met in Paris and have lived in four different cities with Marie-Claire and their 13-year old son Sebastien. Eileen has been fervently engaged in Down syndrome advocacy, fundraising and family support in every city they have lived. 

Eileen studied Psychology at Purdue University and earned her Masters of Social Work Degree at Indiana University. This background, her previous work experience, as well as all her past leadership roles have prepared her for her current role as Fundraising Lead for GiGi’s Playhouse. Her motivation to succeed comes from a true understanding of the impact such a place can have on a child and their family.  

Her dream is for GiGi’s Playhouse Charlotte to be a place where toddlers receive needed therapies, learn social skills and make lifelong friendships, where tutors fill in the gaps and focus on strengths to help children succeed academically, and where adults with Down syndrome gather, develop career skills and deepen their relationships. She also envisions a place where parents can listen and support each other and learn from an array of professionals - a place where they can exhale and realize that everything will not only be okay, but be extraordinary. 



Ashley Heiligenstadt, GiGiFIT Program Coordinator

Ashley moved to Charlotte 5 years ago after receiving her degree in Kinesiology with a concentration in Exercise Science from James Madison University.

While at JMU, Ashley worked at the Morrison Bruce Center developing programs for women and girls that promoted active and healthy lifestyles. She also served as a golf and fitness coordinator for the Overcoming Barriers program which focused on motor skill development for children with varying disabilities.

Since then she has worked with athletes of all ages teaching proper body mechanics and overall health and wellness as a Strength and Conditioning Coach in the Charlotte area. She is so excited to continue to get back to her passion of working in the Down Syndrome community through the GiGiFit program.



Melissa Maxwell, Social Media Manager

Melissa is a speech-language pathologist in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district. Having moved from Buffalo, NY five years ago, she currently resides in Fort Mill, SC. Melissa has been looking for a non-profit to volunteer with since moving to Charlotte. When Melissa heard about GiGi’s Playhouse, she immediately fell in love with their mission and what the Playhouse aims to accomplish. Melissa is excited to see the lasting impact that GiGi’s Playhouse will have on all of the individuals with Down syndrome, their families and Charlotte as a whole. She is excited to join the team here in Charlotte!