Our Team


Grace Glenny, Site Coordinator

Grace joined GiGi’s Playhouse Chicago as Site Coordinator in October 2019.  Since then, she has been busy learning everything there is to know about managing a non-profit organization.  Grace is involved with all aspects of the Chicago Playhouse, from everyday operations, community outreach, event planning, marketing, grant writing and fundraising.

Grace’s love for adventure brought her to Chicago where she earned her Bachelor of Arts in Public Relations and Marketing at Columbia College in 2016. During college, she continued her adventures in yachting, working for Chicago Yacht Club’s communications department. She has participated in major sailing regattas including the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series Chicago, Chicago Race to Mackinac and R2AK (Race to Alaska), where she spent a month traveling along the British Columbian coastline and filming daily. Grace enjoys sailing, cooking new recipes, traveling and camping in Northern Michigan with her family. Her biggest love and supporter is her younger brother Charlie (23) who has Down syndrome.


Jennifer Puma, Program Coordinator

Jennifer Puma started volunteering at the Chicago Playhouse in early 2019, participating in tutoring and teen programs. She loves giving back to the community, which is what brought her through the doors of our Playhouse. In 2020, we were thrilled when Jennifer joined our Playhouse staff as Program Coordinator. Jennifer received her Bachelor of Arts in Rehabilitation Sciences from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She spends her free time with her son Joel (11), family, and friends.


Nillam Raja, Program Coordinator

Nillam Raja is our Program Coordinator at GiGi’s Playhouse Chicago! Hailing from Cape Town, South Africa, Nillam and her family made Chicago their new home in November 2021. With a background in Hospitality and Business Management from Leicester College in the United Kingdom, Nillam brings a unique skill set to our team. Her dedication to the community is evident through her volunteer work as a board member at North Center Neighbors Association (NCNA) and her love for service. Nillam is not only passionate about yoga and Pilates but also about fostering equality and inclusivity.

She’s also a professional makeup artist, having had the opportunity to work in the film industry in Cape Town, South Africa, where she served as a lead makeup artist specializing in special effects makeup on set. Her journey with GiGi’s Playhouse Chicago began as a volunteer in the Literacy Program, where she was inspired by the organization’s mission of acceptance for all. Nillam is excited to apply her skills, share her knowledge, and learn from our community, and she can’t wait to be a part of this incredible global organization.


Evguenia (Jenny) Popova, PhD, OTR/L , Board President

Jenny is a licensed occupational therapist and has been practicing in early intervention since 2015. She received a Master’s in Occupational Therapy and a PhD in Rehabilitation Sciences from University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). She is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Occupational Therapy at Rush University. In her research, teaching, and clinical practice, Jenny strives to promote the importance of the occupational therapy role in community-based organizations, program development, and leadership.

Beyond lifelong passion for occupational therapy, Jenny believes in giving back to the community through service. It was during her time as a master’s student that she got involved at the Chicago Playhouse. Jenny has served as a program leader, Co-Chair of Therapeutic Programs, Vice President, and is now President of the Chicago Board of Managers. Service is never easy, but it comes with a huge reward of being able to bring people together and take actionable steps to make our community a better place.


Beau Bates, Board Vice President, Facilities Manager

Beau has worked in architectural design, general contracting, and recycling. This is his sixth year as a Board member of the Chicago Playhouse and was previously a Playhouse volunteer focused on maintaining and improving the Playhouse. The successful Capital Campaign and resulting expansion plan enabled Beau to call on his design and construction expertise. As our current location evolves, he is committed to presenting a bigger, better, and even more enriching experience at the Playhouse for our participants and their families.

Beau, his wife Janis, and their kids Georgia, Ella, and Ian, live in Lincoln Square. Ian (15) has been a big beneficiary of Chicago Playhouse programs, all the friends he has met, and the many parties and special events he loves to attend there.

Beau graduated from University of Denver and University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee. He and his family love Chicago and all it has to offer. During his free time, Beau enjoys the outdoors, to run, ski, or bike.


Mary Mangan, Treasurer, Finance Co-Chair

Mary Mangan lives in Chicago’s North Center neighborhood with her husband and their three children.  They live and work in the same neighborhood as the Chicago Playhouse.  She has a degree in Accounting from Eastern Illinois University, is a CPA and her background is in corporate accounting.  Mary currently works part-time for their family business, Mangan Builders Inc.

Mary first came to the Playhouse with a friend and her daughter for Crawlers and Walkers playtime.  Seeing how GiGi’s supported and connected the participants made a great impact on her.  Soon after Mary became part of the GiGi’s community by joining the Board of Directors in 2015.  She has been on the Finance Committee and currently serves as the Treasurer of the Chicago Playhouse.

Seeing the Playhouse grow in participants, programming and awareness is what keeps her involved with this great organization.  Changing the perception and acceptance of all individuals with Down syndrome drives us all to ensure that our Playhouse continues to grow and thrive!


Cheryl Bane, Board Secretary

Cheryl Bane lives in Lincoln Park with her husband Brad, daughter Quincy (23, with Down syndrome) and son Julian (20).  Cheryl has a BA from Connecticut College and an MBA from Indiana University and has worked in Human Resources Management for a variety of Fortune 500 companies.

Cheryl’s daughter Quincy has enjoyed GiGI’s Playhouse programs since age 5, when the Hoffman Estates location first opened almost 20 years ago.   Quincy now runs the popular weekly program “Quincy’s Corner” for the Chicago Playhouse’s young adults.  Cheryl is excited to help the Chicago Playhouse expand its programming for young adults with Down syndrome, helping to equip them to live and work as independently as possible.  Cheryl’s hobbies include running, natural health, and paddling with the Adaptive Adventures dragon boat team.


Jennifer Casey, Outreach Committee Co-Chair

Jennifer has a long history with the Chicago Playhouse starting when she was Site Coordinator from 2011 - 2013.  Feeling a pull back to GiGi's mission, she was thrilled to join the Chicago Playhouse Board in February 2018.  Jennifer has a Finance degree from Northern Illinois University and a Master's degree from DePaul University in Non-Profit Administration.   Jennifer is married to Dominic, has a step-daughter Molly (27), who lives in Flagstaff, AZ and a daughter Parker (18), who is a freshman at University of Vermont studying Environmental Science.  Jennifer is a Financial Planner at Creative Planning, helping individuals and couples meet their financial goals.  She loves helping change the way the world sees Down syndrome.


Anna Machuga, Communications Co-Chair

Anna first got involved with our Chicago Playhouse in early 2020 when she completed her doctoral capstone experience at our Playhouse, as part of her occupational therapy degree from Rush University. She piloted a career exploration program and implemented internships at the Playhouse for our young adult participants. She has presented her research findings at three occupational therapy conferences to spread knowledge surrounding community-based occupational therapy services for individuals with Down syndrome. Anna loved her time at the Playhouse and formed so many amazing relationships with the participants, families, and staff that she was thrilled to be able to join the board upon graduation.

Anna works as a pediatric occupational therapist and loves helping kids reach their fullest potential in all areas of life. She lives in Lincoln Park and was raised in Orange County, California. She attended the University of Notre Dame for her undergraduate degree and loves rooting for the Irish, doing yoga, and exploring all of Chicago’s restaurants in her free time.


Abbey Melling, Programs Co-Chair

Abbey got involved with GiGi’s Playhouse after noticing all the cute faces on windows while driving by.  Being a pediatric physical therapist for over 10 years (at the time), she really enjoyed working with individuals with Down syndrome and their families.   With some research, she found that we offered many great programs and that assisting the growth of our programs was needed at our Playhouse.  She started volunteering at Crawlers and Walkers and the Teen Programs, particularly with the fitness components.  The more time she spent with these individuals, the more she learned how important programming was and the need for further development across all ages.  She joined our Playhouse Therapeutic Programs Committee to assist.  In December 2017, she joined the Board as a co-chair for the Therapeutic Programs Committees.  She enjoys her time on the Board and continuing to meet the program participants, their families and all of the amazing volunteers.

Abbey is a pediatric physical therapist who works in the school system.  She currently lives in Wicker Park and is originally from Michigan.  She earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees from Ohio State University.  Abbey lived in Ohio for a few years after school, then moved to Portland, Oregon for 2 years before settling down in Chicago.  In her spare time, she loves to travel, enjoy dinner with friends and ride the lakefront trail on her bike.


Vivian Villegas, Signature Events Co-Chair

Vivian Villegas is a pediatric occupational therapist and research specialist working to accelerate family-engaged and participation-focused care. Vivian began volunteering at GiGi’s Playhouse Chicago in 2018. She has served as a group leader, Therapeutic Program Committee member, and now eagerly joined the Board of Directors as Fundraising Co-Chair. Vivian is committed to providing free educational and therapeutic programming to individuals with Down syndrome, their families, and the Chicago community. In her spare time, Vivian enjoys jogging on the Chicago lakefront, singing in her church choir, and playing euchre.


Ryan Hearty, Governance Co-Chair

Ryan moved to Chicago in 2015 from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  He has a degree in Computer System Technology, and currently works for BlackBerry as a Business Development Manager.  He has over 15 years’ experience in mobile technology and is beginning to expand his knowledge in the business world.  Ryan is studying Economics part-time at the University of Illinois at Chicago and also plans to pursue an MBA.

Ryan was introduced to the amazing GiGi’s Playhouse Chicago community through his wife, Jenny Popova.  Over the years he has helped with various events and community fundraisers for the Playhouse and has met many great people.  Ryan is excited for this next step of joining the Board of Directors and giving back to the community.  When Ryan isn’t working or studying, he enjoys spending time with his family exploring Chicago’s amazing craft beer and food offerings.


Samantha Conrad, One-Day Events Chair

A self-proclaimed "nomad", Samantha grew up between Texas and Singapore - diving headfirst into various cultures with amazing food and grand adventures. She ultimately found her forever home in Chicago while attending graduate school at Rush University, and began her GiGi's journey through her doctoral research studies in the Summer of 2021.

Through her research, Samantha explored the benefit of promoting self-determination in young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and found that peer-led extracurricular engagement can increase a person's sense of self, executive functioning, and overall wellbeing. Since then, Samantha has become a strong advocate for creative art expression for individuals with Down Syndrome and using dramatization to understand our lived experiences.

Samantha works in Chicago as an occupational therapist in a rehabilitation hospital and volunteers in various community-based organizations throughout the city.  In her free time Samantha enjoys yoga, trying new recipes, playing board games, and scream-singing along to musicals.


Ashley Bowman, Signature Events Co-Chair

Ashley got involved with GiGi’s Playhouse Chicago when her daughter, Lily, was born in 2018 with an at birth diagnosis of Down syndrome. GiGi’s has given her family such an amazing community and home, so when asked to join the Board it was a quick and easy, YES!

Ashley looks forward to welcoming and helping new families at the Chicago Playhouse. Ashley has a Stage Management BFA from Northern Kentucky University and is currently working as an Executive Assistant to the COO and CIO of Potbelly Sandwich Shop. She lives in the Albany Park area with her Partner (Sean) of 10 years+, daughter (Lily), and doggy (Sugar).


Sean Harkless, Fundraising Co-Chair

Sean and his family are huge GiGi’s Playhouse Chicago fans! Ever since their daughter, Lily, was born in 2018, GiGi’s Playhouse Chicago has been ever present in her life. Sean and his partner, Ashley, moved to Chicago from Kentucky in 2013 and happened to live directly behind GiGi’s Playhouse Chicago for a number of years before Lily was born.

Sean received his BA in Theatre Arts at Northern Kentucky University with a Minor in History. He spent several years studying and performing improv at The Second City and iO Chicago. Currently, he manages an independent coffee shop and roastery called Backlot Coffee in Old Irving Park. Sean is excited to join the Board of GiGi’s Playhouse Chicago as the Co-Chair of the Fundraising Committee.


Megan Westendorf, Outreach Co-Chair

Megan has been involved with GiGi’s Playhouse Chicago since the summer of 2021 when she completed her doctoral capstone experience at the Playhouse. She worked to expand the summer internship program and piloted the Project TEAM group. Megan worked to help the interns learn, understand, and practice the steps of Goal-Plan-Do-Check and incorporate the steps into their daily tasks and activities. She thoroughly enjoyed working with the participants, families, and staff and is excited to broaden her experience with the Playhouse as a Board member.

Megan is from Fort Wayne, IN and now lives in Ukrainian Village. She graduated from Indiana University in 2017 with a bachelor degree in psychology and Rush University in 2021 with a doctorate degree in occupational therapy. Megan currently works as an occupational therapist in the inpatient acute hospital setting, primarily with adults. In her free time, Megan enjoys spending time with her puppy, Hudson, exploring outdoors, going out to eat with friends, and catching up on her endless reading list.


Lauren Duffy, Programs Co-Chair

Lauren is a licensed occupational therapist practicing in a school-based setting with students ages 3-22. She received her Doctor of Occupational Therapy degree from University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) with a focus in Post-Secondary Transition Planning. Lauren first began volunteering at GiGi's Playhouse Chicago in 2017 as a program leader for TeenTastic, while completing her occupational therapy degree. She has since been the liaison between the UIC OT Department and GiGi's Playhouse Chicago. Through this role, she fosters a mutually beneficial community partnership between OT students, faculty, families, and participants. Lauren joined the Board of Directors as a Programs Co-Chair in 2022. She grew up in the Western suburbs and completed her undergraduate degree at Ohio State University. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, doing puzzles, cooking for friends and family, and being outdoors.


Lillie Honeychuck, Finance Co-Chair

Lillie first got involved with GiGi's Playhouse Chicago in early 2022, joining the finance and GFAC planning committees, and later becoming a 1:1 math tutor. She has a brother with Down syndrome and quickly connected with GiGi's mission and the supportive community of volunteers and families at GiGi's Chicago. She was excited to join the Board in 2023 as Finance Co-Chair.

Lillie is originally from York, Pennsylvania but has been living in Chicago since 2016. She has a degree in applied math and works as an actuary in the health insurance industry. She loves playing board games with her husband, going to improv shows, and visiting friends and family.