volunteer spotlight – Abbey Vande Velde

We love showcasing our families and our volunteers here at GiGi’s Playhouse. We have countless volunteers who selflessly give of their time and their hearts to help us achieve our mission and help our participants and their families achieve their goals. Abbey Vande Velde is one of those amazing people. She joined our GiGi’s family in April 2017 as a literacy tutor and is now our Lead for Teen Tastic. Prior to joining GiGi’s Playhouse, Abbey volunteered at Youth Challenge, then worked at Camp Christopher in the resident camp and “special populations” programs. Her responsibilities as the Teen Tastic Lead include creating the lesson plans for the teen program, making sure each objective of our purposeful programming is covered every month, as well as coming up with the therapeutic activities or community outreach for our teens, including contacting community members. Abbey is very intentional with her planning and brings a wealth of energy to the Playhouse each month. We are so thankful for her and her experience she brings!

Here’s Abbey’s story:

When you walk down Detroit Avenue in Lakewood, it’s hard not to be drawn towards GiGi’s Playhouse- with it’s brightly colored sign and windows emblazoned with smiling faces, it jumps out at you! This is exactly what happened to me.

I recently moved back to the Lakewood area and was walking my dog one afternoon when I spotted the sign for GiGi’s; I made a mental note to do some research when I got home. As soon as I started learning about GiGi’s and their mission I knew I wanted to have a role in this community.

I started attending the *TEAM* program which meets each week and encourages and teaches healthy eating and exercise in a group setting. Every week the adults cook a different healthy meal and participate in an exercise class, and after two weeks of attending I was hooked! The positivity and energy in the atmosphere was contagious. I found that I really wanted to explore all of the programs that GiGi’s had to offer and decided to sign up for Literacy Tutoring to explore a 1-on-1 program.

After a few weeks of corresponding with the Literacy Coordinator, I was paired up with a 6 year old named Roan for the 10 week summer session. I headed to the playhouse for our first tutoring session and I was oddly nervous! I was so excited, but I also found myself questioning whether or not I was going to do a good job. I remember hearing the doorbell go off, immediately followed by quick little footsteps running down the hall. Roan rounded the corner and was beaming with excitement! I felt all of my doubts dissipate.

Roan came to tutoring every week with his older brother Keller and stepmom Cynthia. AND LET ME TELL YOU— this family completely embodies what GiGi’s is all about! Keller is Roan’s biggest cheerleader and was always applauding his efforts and Cynthia has the most beautiful soul and absolutely radiates love. Each session I was more and more in awe of Roan. Not every session was easy, we definitely had our ups and downs, but at the end of ten weeks Roan could knock out all of his material with flying colors!! The strides that this little boy made from week 1 to week 10 still makes me beam with pride! We encountered some frustrations along the way- I mean it was summer time and we were inside reading books not romping around in the sun, but Roan never ceased to amaze me! I often reflect on our time together and I truly believe that Roan can do anything in this world. It is my STRONG personal opinion that a little bit of magic exists in that extra chromosome.

The third Friday of the month I am now lucky enough to spend my night leading the Teen Tastic program. Every month we get together to hang out, work on our social skills and try new things that may force us out of our comfort zones a bit. These teens blow me away with the strides they make in their confidence building, in the friendships that continue to bloom, and the laughter that ensues! I can think of no better way to spend a Friday night!

I set out on this journey at GiGi’s hoping to give back to the community and have realized each and every week that I am the one who learns something. GiGi’s Playhouse has added to my world in more ways than I imagined and we are so lucky to have them as a vital part of our community. I look forward to all of the future adventures that GiGi’s has in store.



educate. inspire. believe.

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  1. Tom Harkness on April 4, 2018 at 1:53 pm

    You continue to amaze us all with your compassion and light.
    GiGi’s is an ideal outlet for your beautiful soul to be brought into the service of others.
    Jules & I and the girls send you and your Teen Tastic team all our support and admiration.
    Maybe tap Molly H. this summer to help ?
    Much Love,

  2. Maribeth Barabas on April 4, 2018 at 9:28 pm

    Abbey is so Fabulous!

  3. Greg Bodnar on April 4, 2018 at 11:15 pm

    Abbey, Thanks for sharing your story. I had no idea that you are a volunteer and not only a volunteer but so much more.
    Congratulations on your lead of Teen Tastic and congratulations on bringing smiles anf joy to the kids.

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