When Finn was born I knew our family would accept, love and protect him. I knew our friends would accept and embrace him and add him to the mix of our dinner parties and gatherings. It’s the world that worries me and keeps me up some nights. Will the world at large accept Finn? Will the people he encounters on his journey through life take the time to talk to him, to get to know him, to be his friend? People with Down syndrome can and do lead productive and fulfilling lives, and they want the same things as you and I. Finn and his homies with an extra chromie just need a bit more support every step of the way. And that’s where GiGi’s comes in! GiGi’s provides that extra level of support to individuals and families from prenatal diagnosis through adulthood. The Playhouse provides educational, therapeutic, social and life skills programming all 100% free of charge.
The first time I walked into a Playhouse Finn was 5 weeks old. He was barely out of the NICU and here I was taking him to a baby music and speech class. I walked into the Playhouse and my face just fell. I had messed up. The Playhouse was full of teenagers – it was a teen social cub meeting! There was a group of parents off to the side and a woman walked right over to me. “I think you’ve come to the wrong group, but come on in!” She invited me to sit down, asked if she could hold Finn and talked to me for an hour. I was caught off guard and embarrassed that I had mixed up the times, but clearly it was fate that brought me to the Playhouse that day at that time. Chris talked to me about her daughter, held and rocked Finn, and shared a bit about her family’s journey. At the end of the hour I was convinced. I had indeed come at the wrong time, but I had absolutely come to the right place.
I still take Finn out to different Playhouses, usually to the one in Hoffman Estates. A little over 2 years ago a group came together to open this Playhouse and help support the nearly 1400 families from Gurnee to Wilmette and beyond that live long the 94 corridor. The programming is and always will be 100% free, and the support provided is priceless. Now we open our doors and host babies, kids, teens and adults with Down syndrome in all sorts of groups and classes. We get to invite new parents to sit down and focus on their little one. At the Playhouse you don’t ever have to explain what your child can’t do, but instead we celebrate what they can do and what they are working on! We celebrate every accomplishment, cheer every milestone, never pass judgement.
In this age of social media it is invaluable to have a brick and mortar place to come and connect. People connect with peers, and learn skills and build confidence through all the programs. The Playhouse mission is to change the way the world sees Down syndrome and to spread a global message of acceptance for all. The Playhouse changes the lives not only of people with Down syndrome but also the people in the community. We shine a light on Down syndrome and inspire others to volunteer and accept people with differences.
~ Elizabeth Ray, Vice President of GiGi’s Playhouse Deerfield-Bannockburn