Volunteer Spotlight – Summer!

Summer joined our tutoring team in Fall 2022 and made such an impact with one of our younger participants. Summer went above and beyond, helping to create sight word cards from Nolan’s teacher and incorporate them into his tutoring at the Playhouse. In addition, she steps in as a sub–Program Lead when needed. We are so thankful for her time and energy!  

Nolan’s mom, Mary, shares, “Summer has been a wonderful tutor for the literacy program at GiGi’s Playhouse!! She is knowledgeable, energetic and respectful to my son’s literacy needs. She has been a joy to work with and brings such enjoyment to Nolan. I look forward to each week, seeing and hearing Nolan’s delight as he progresses. She is always thinking of new ways to excite and teach and does so with such care and kindness.”

Summer and her husband, Will, are also rockin’ parents who bring their children to GiGi’s Playhouse programs. Read on to learn more about Summer and her incredible family. We asked Summer a few questions and needless to say, we needed tissues reading through her beautiful responses.

How did you find out about GiGi’s Playhouse?

When our daughter, Oakley, was born, I was handed several folders with information about Down syndrome, and there was a folder from GiGi’s Playhouse that instead of focusing on all of the possible health complications my new baby could have, it had a smiling faces, and was about celebrating how awesome these kids are. I noticed that, but was so overwhelmed we didn’t reach out. Then I went to a zoo walk with the Down syndrome community and every family I ran into asked us if we have gotten plugged in with GiGi’s yet. We took that as our sign we had to! We came to the Playhouse and met Lizz and we walked out and knew it was going to be our second home. We were blown away by both Lizz and the Playhouse! Our first program was LMNOP with Miss Amanda. Everything was so fun and so purposeful, and Amanda was helpful in several ways. We loved it and wanted to enroll Oakley is as many programs as possible.

Why did you start volunteering at GiGi’s Playhouse?

My husband and I have joked together that we have no idea exactly how I started volunteering at GiGi’s. I think I received an email that said they were looking for tutors. I used to be a high school English teacher and felt like the literacy program was just popping out to me. I sent an email and got paired with the sweetest eight year old boy. Our sessions involved a healthy amount of play with vehicles, and we snuck in a lot of learning! Every time I left a tutoring session, I felt so proud of him, and so energized. His growth was really incredible and his happy smile when HE was proud of himself was just awesome and made me sign up for another session! 

What is your favorite memory at the Playhouse?

One of my favorite memories at GiGi’s Playhouse, was when Oakley took the microphone at Volunteer Appreciation Night, and the only thing she said was, “thank you, Jake”.  Her simple, thank you had so much wisdom. But it was also ironic as an understatement. While Oakley was in GiGiFIT, Jake learned what sort of things motivated her like high-fives and clapping. That sounds really simple or obvious, but it unlocked a lot of potential and helped Oakley have a bunch of growth!

What part of the mission appeals to you the most and why?

One of the things I love about GiGi’s is that they make sure they focus on the “Best of All”. Instead of highlighting where these people with Down syndrome might be different from their typical peers, it is always a celebration of their own personal bests. I truly believe and feel like every person with Down syndrome at the Playhouse is loved exactly for who they are and where they are. I’m always impressed that this means there is still a growth mindset. And I’m always impressed that goals are met through fun. I can’t imagine anyone NOT wanting to be part of a program that enriched lives like this one! I’m so grateful I get to be a part of it!

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

Advice I’d give to a new volunteer would be to get SO excited! Volunteering at GiGi’s is a funny thing. You go in thinking you are going to help out and make a difference…and you definitely do! But the change in you is probably going to be much greater than the change you provide. GiGi’s is such an infectious and uplifting place that you will leave brighter and look at the whole world differently after being in that environment of positivity and celebration!

If you or someone you know is interested in volunteering, share this blog with them! Our volunteers are the heartbeat of our Playhouse!

CLICK HERE to sign up to volunteer and our team will be in touch with you!

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