“Raise the Barr” Service Award Recipients 2020 & 2019

Happy Volunteer Awareness Month! Every year, our Playhouse Board of Managers selects a volunteer who goes above and beyond to support our participants and Playhouse families. This year, we are excited to announce our 2020 “Raise the Barr” Service Award recipient is Susannah Kavanaugh! Thank you Susannah for all you do to make our Dance program for our Teens so special! We would also light to highlight our 2019 “Raise the Barr” Service Award recipient, Bruce Dempsey! Bruce was instrumental in bring our Art Explosion! program to our Playhouse and are incredibly grateful for his support in creating such a fun and creative program for our families!

 

Thank you both for all your dedicated service and support throughout the years! We interviewed both Susannah and Bruce about their volunteer experiences and favorite Playhouse memories. Read more about their stories below!

 

 

2020 “Raise the Barr” Service Award Winner – Susannah Kavanaugh

How long have you been volunteering at GiGi’s Playhouse Chicago and what made you want to get involved?

Oh…I am not even sure! 3 years? I started because a friend/yoga classmate, Patti Morrow, was a volunteer at the time and she brought me to GiGi’s.

 

What volunteer opportunities are you currently/previously involved in at the Playhouse?

I teach dance/hip hop on Thursday nights .

 

Tell us about your favorite GiGi’s Playhouse Chicago memory and why it stands out to you.

Oh, so many fun times, but I think when the kids performed to Beyoncé’s “Before I Let Go” at the Dance-a-Thon was hard to beat! The process was SO much fun, and then to see them in costume perform for friends and family?!?! That was epic!

 

What advice would you give those who are interested in volunteering at our Playhouse?

JUST DO IT! You won’t ever regret a moment!

 

What does it mean to you to be awarded the title of volunteer of the year?

I am incredibly flattered, and humbled. I don’t feel like I do much, or even enough. The kids give me WAY more than I could ever give them…so this award is just the cherry on top.

 

 

2019 “Raise the Barr” Service Award Winner – Bruce Dempsey 

How long have you been volunteering at GiGi’s Playhouse Chicago and what made you want to get involved?

When I retired about 8-years ago I knew I wanted to remain involved in Education, but in a different capacity.  I retired as the Vice President of Education for 10-colleges.  I wanted to be more hands-on and involved in art [my undergraduate degree is a BFA from Carnegie-Mellon University]  I also had a childhood friend named Petey M. Petey and I were in the same grade and Petey has Down syndrome.  My best friend and neighbor’s aunt also had Down syndrome as well as my mother’s cousin’s son.  I knew I wanted to give back to the community, something art-related and working with children and adults with Down syndrome.  I did some research, found GiGi’s Playhouse Chicago and reached-out to the Director about the possibility of teaching art.  It just so happened that the national GiGi’s office had an art curriculum called Art Explosion! and it was the responsibility of each Playhouse to design their own program!  I started working on developing a curriculum for the Chicago Playhouse and we started teaching the class in the late spring of 2017.  The course has grown into an annual program, we have a local River North gallery, Gallery Victor Armendariz, who graciously donates part of their gallery space for their December exhibition and a local fine art photographer who reproduces some of the originals into signed and numbered prints.  The program has received a great deal of publicity and more importantly has been a course to improve the self-confidence and self-assurance of the artists, which was one go the course goals!

 

What volunteer opportunities are you currently/previously involved in at the Playhouse?

I have been teaching the Art Explosion! course since 2017 and have been a literacy tutor for many of the great GiGi’s Chicago school age students!

 

Tell us about your favorite GiGi’s Playhouse Chicago memory and why it stands out to you.

Our first Art Explosion! gallery exhibition was December 2017.  Victor Armendariz and Julie from Gallery Victor Armendariz did a phenomenal job matting, hanging and documenting the kids’ works for this show.  The grand opening for the exhibition was on a Saturday afternoon, to see the faces of the artists/kids, their parents, families, friends and more, when they walked into the gallery and saw their work on the walls near paintings selling for $20,000 or more was just amazing!  My goal was to increase their self-confidence and self-assurance that THEY are everything and can do anything was achieved!

 

What advice would you give those who are interested in volunteering at our Playhouse?

DO IT!!!  Don’t walk, run to GiGi’s Chicago, talk to Grace, talk to the Board and just DO IT!  Just be warned, you think YOU will be giving back to the community, YOU will get 10-fold what you give from the GiGi’s families.

 

What does it mean to you to be awarded the title of volunteer of the year?

It’s humbling and I’m honored.  I never began doing this thinking I would be honored and I wasn’t sure IF I could make a difference, but it has happened!  I’m deeply honored!

 

 

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