Written by Alexis Downes, Alexis Nacht, and Giovanna Savastano – Teen Tastic Group Leaders & Master’s Students in Occupational Therapy at University of Illinois at Chicago


As we all know, this year has looked quite different than years in the past. However, Teen Tastic has resumed online and GiGi’s Playhouse Chicago teens have been up to some wonderful things!


Teen Tastic is a group held every other Thursday night that aims to build social interaction skills, collaborative skills, self-efficacy, self-advocacy, and empower self-expression. Some specific skills we have been working on include active listening, following directions, and positivity. Through the virtual format, socializing with peers is a major priority due to lack of social interaction with others through social distancing during the pandemic. It’s amazing seeing the teens lift each other up and bring happiness into each other’s Thursday evenings.


At the start of each group meeting, the teens participate in virtual dance or yoga thanks to our wonderful fitness leaders Amy Leuenberger & Jolene Wise. After fitness, the 2020 Teen Tastic group has been led by Alexis Downes, Alexis Nacht, and Giovanna Savastano. We always started with some check-in questions on Kahoot to get the conversation flowing! The Teens always have so many excellent thoughts to share. Even though Teen Tastic was moved to an online format, some activities we engaged in included virtual show-and-tell, talent shows, making Mother’s & Father’s Day cards, home scavenger hunts, structured storytelling, Scattergories, and we even planned a virtual vacation! The teens planned a road trip that extended all the way from Chicago, through Michigan, and over to the East Coast, with many yummy food stops incorporated along the way!


In June, the week of GiGi’s annual Step to Accept event, we focused on the concept of acceptance of others.  We started with sharing how we were participating in the virtual Step to Accept challenge and then led into discussing the question, “What does it mean to accept someone else?” Following that discussion, group leaders shared their screen and played the Sometimes You’re a Caterpillar” video from YouTube which led into further discussion around the topic of acceptance. It was a heartwarming group and we learned a lot from each other.


A few weeks ago, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, Teen Tastic held a gratitude group. The group was focused on what, where, and who everyone was thankful for during 2020. More importantly, Michelle was interviewed as the star of our gratitude group! Here are some of the amazing things we learned about Michelle’s Thanksgiving plans, what she’s thankful for and some activities she has been involved in throughout the pandemic:


Michelle is most thankful for her home and her friends. She let us know that she calls her friend Emanuel, another Teen Tastic participant, once a day! In addition she wants to tell all of her friends that she misses them and is excited to hopefully see them back in person next year. Another person she misses is Bruce, the leader of Art Explosion (her favorite part of GiGi’s Playhouse)!


For Thanksgiving, Michelle planned to stay home with family and play Bingo, their family Thanksgiving tradition! She also planned to make a ham for the very first time and some chocolate chip cookies for dessert, YUM! Here’s a picture of Michelle and the cute turkey craft she made for Thanksgiving at the Park District:

During the pandemic, Michelle has been doing so many fun activities! She loves watching X Factor videos on YouTube and tries to find a new artist every week. One Direction is her favorite band and she even has a cup with the band printed on it! Not only does Michelle love listening to music, but she has been playing songs on her guitar as well. Her favorite song to play is When We Collide by Matt Cardle. In addition to music, Michelle has been playing basketball, completing word searches, and making tamales! She let us know that tamales is a very challenging dish to make and in the future we hope to receive some cooking lessons from chef Michelle herself! Thank you Michelle for sharing your excellence with us, we were lucky to interview you!

Ultimately, yes Teen Tastic has looked different in an online format, but so many positive experiences have come out of it and it’s all thanks to the excellent teens who participate! We love GiGi’s Teen Tastic!

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