Volunteer of the Month – Rachel

Meet Rachel – our amazing Leaps and Bounds Program Lead. She is passionate about advocating for our friends of all abilities and she’s not afraid to speak up for those around her. Her heart of gold and ability-centered approach is evident in her well-thought-out and intentional lesson plans each month. She considers each individual’s goals and finds ways to support their growth, while also challenging them to achieve new heights. Rachel is also a volunteer who creates a safe space for everyone, as she often stays long after the program is over to talk to parents about IEPs and answer any questions they may have. Because of her adamant work and passion, Rachel was selected as our Volunteer of the Month!

Tell us about yourself!

I am a 2017 graduate of the University of Dayton, Go Flyers! I am an Intervention Specialist for Westlake City Schools.  I live in the Edgewater neighborhood and love being a resident of Cleveland. I enjoy spending my free time exploring neighborhoods and restaurants in Cleveland with family and friends. 

What got you involved at GiGi’s Playhouse? How long have you been involved? 

I heard about families’ positive experiences with GiGi’s Playhouse through friends and social media, and I was drawn into the continuum of services and support that GiGi’s Playhouse provides participants and their families. The idea of being a part of these wrap-around services was so energizing and exciting to me! I began volunteering in September 2021. 

What programs do you volunteer with, and what is your favorite part about the program? 

I am the Lead for the Leaps & Bounds program. My favorite part of the program is seeing families connect and have rich, meaningful conversations as they parent their child and enter into the preschool years. 

My second favorite part is seeing each of the participants grow and gain so many amazing skills from month to month. Preschool is such an explosion of learning and exploring. It is amazing to see them engage and navigate a routine, center-based program with increased independence and confidence! 

You are such an advocate for inclusion, education, and transparency when it comes to IEPs. What fuels this passion? What advice do you have for parents who are new to IEPs? 

Being in the education world I feel it is such an honor and gift to be a part of each of these children’s educational journeys. My passion is fueled by all of the rich conversations with the IEP team to develop a unique plan that best fits the learner’s educational needs! My advice for parents is to remember that YOU are the most crucial part of our team. Your input and questions are essential and support the team to create a meaningful and fantastic IEP for your child. 

Why do you love GiGi’s Playhouse?  

I love GiGi’s Playhouse because of the families. Getting to connect with the same (and new) families month to month is such a humbling, joy-filled experience for me. There is nothing better than getting to welcome a new family to a program and see their eyes dazzle with excitement as they see their child engage in a meaningful program! 

What is something you wish more people knew about our friends with Down syndrome? 

I wish more people knew that our friends with Down syndrome are breaking barriers each and every day. And that they are capable and integral members of our workforce and community. 

Do you have a favorite memory at the Playhouse?

My favorite memory at the Playhouse is when we get to sing the hello song to a new family! It is always so fun to sing the hello song personally to each and every kiddo and watch their face light up when they hear their name! 

What is one piece of advice you’d give to a new volunteer? 

I would remind them to provide our participants wait time for a verbal or physical response. So many exciting visual, auditory, tactile, and sensory moments happen within an hour-long program, sometimes our friends with Down syndrome need time to process all the novel activities! Just like we all do! 

As a volunteer, what is one thing you’d say to a new family who is curious about GiGi’s Playhouse? 

GiGi’s Playhouse is the most amazing place to anchor your family and find a community! The resources, support, and friendship are endless. You are already so wrapped with love and encouragement from so many amazing people… the very moment you walk through the doors! 

Rachel, your effortless way of advocating for our community does not go unnoticed. You are a fierce ally for so many, and the fire that burns inside of you is so bright. Thank you for leading others in kindness, acceptance, and inclusion through your actions, words, and love!

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