Every year in November the playhouses from across the country gather together to share ideas, best practices, and trainings to ensure we are providing the latest and greatest to our families. Although this year was our first virtual conference the impact was just as great. The last day of conference we celebrate #bestofall moments, volunteers, and playhouses that have gone above and beyond. We are so proud to announce that of all of the amazing volunteers across the country our very own Jill Rabin received the award for National Volunteer of the Year in 2020. We are incredibly lucky to have Jill share her passion and knowledge with our playhouse. Here are just a few reasons why:
“When a baby is officially diagnosed with Down syndrome within 100 miles of our playhouse one of the first calls made is to Jill Rabin. Jill has established herself as a leader in the Down syndrome community, not only for her work but for her passion for our kiddos. When many new families still receive negative information from doctors and social workers, Jill is a beacon of positivity. When doctors say that babies with Down syndrome can’t breastfeed, Jill says, they can and they will. She truly is a force to be reckoned with.
Jill was on the startup team that brought the playhouse to Deerfield. She doesn’t have a child or family member with Down syndrome, she simply fell in love with this population of amazing humans and wanted to ensure that they have all the best opportunities in life. Once our playhouse opened Jill was key to our success the first year. She volunteered to set up our 1:1 speech therapy program here supervising local college graduate students so our kids could have free therapy. Our first two sessions she was volunteering over 14 hours a week on top of her full time case load. For our last two sessions she brought on an SLP friend who shared supervising hours so that we could continue to offer free speech therapy to our students. ON TOP of running our 1:1 speech program Jill also leads our LMNOP group every Friday. It is because of Jill that our program (pre-covid) was always packed. When supporting new families with the diagnosis, breast feeding, regular feeding and speech she also brings them into GiGi’s for the first time, connects them to me and to other families and shows the impact that being a part of this community can have. She took that program and squeezed every drop of purpose she could out of it, teaching families 8-12 signs a week and putting them into the songs we sing to help them remember, she added oral motor work to strengthen their mouths, tongues and lips to make speech and feeding easier, and teaches the parents WHY we do all of these activities to show the purpose of the program and help them to continue that work at home. When COVID hit Jill didn’t hesitate to sign up to run a National LMNOP to support families all over the country. She in fact supports kids from all over the world to help walk parents through speech and feeding support. She has also lead national Family Speaker Nights with GiGi’s to support families with feeding and speech.
Jill is already a leader in the speech and feeding community; she has co-authored books, lead conferences teaching other SLPS and professionals all over the world, and truly lives our mission, changing the way the world sees Down syndrome. What is so impressive about Jill is that she never stops learning. I look forward to seeing her every Friday and her telling me about the podcast she listened to, or conference she went to, or book she read and how we can incorporate those into our programs here. She is always actively engaged in the playhouse and in empowering our families to be their #bestofall. She is the go-to person for every family here. I cannot say enough about the impact Jill has had. She is not just a game changer, she is a life changer and a true inspiration.”
~ Site Coordinator Shannon
“She may not realize it – but Jill has been a resource to our family since Henry was born. While Henry was in the NICU she shared with us her wealth of knowledge on breastfeeding so we knew what to expect and felt empowered to ask questions. Early on in the pandemic, I noticed that Jill taught LMNOP for GiGi’s Deerfield and we’ve been watching her live and on demand classes ever since. Henry lights up when he sees Jill on the screen! He often signs LOVE and lets out a big scream when class starts and when it’s time to say goodbye. He is excited to sign, dance and sing! Her structured approach not only provides an easy framework for parents to learn but also is incredibly helpful for Henry. There is a familiarity for him that keeps him attentive and ready to learn. As a result, his sign language has exploded since March and we have a ton of fun learning new signs together. The creativity and thought put into each class is so impressive. Jill clearly is passionate about her work and the Down syndrome community. We are incredibly lucky to have her as a resource to our family. We were excited to bring him to a in person live class earlier this month and sure enough – he loved every moment!”
~ Kathleen, Henry’s Mom from GiGi’s PH Chicago
“Jill Rabin is an unbelievable speech language pathologist, mentor, and friend. She goes above and beyond to ensure that all individuals she works with feel successful, supported, and celebrated. She is an invaluable asset to GiGi’s Playhouse. It was a privilege to work alongside Jill and learn from her expertise. Jill leaves a lasting positive impact on every person she meets!”
~ Emily Montgomery our first SLP Graduate student
“Jill has been with us since the beginning. With a birth diagnosis we were thrown in a tailspin. She came in with exploding enthusiasm and energy. I remember specifically she was the first person who was basically jumping up and down that we had a baby with Down Syndrome. I am thankful to have had Jill as my lactation consultant. Jill is direct, flexible and works as a team to give the best opportunities possible. I felt empowered because she educated me and as we worked together, my son mastered breastfeeding after a few months. I honestly do not think I would have stuck with it or been confident enough to continue through the struggles if it were not for Jill’s guidance.
Through Jill, my husband and I found GiGi’s Playhouse-Deerfield. We were exhausted but she nudged us to go talk with Shannon and check out the place. It was the most significant push we have received. Then we learn Jill leads the LMNOP group at Deerfield, so we go and knew we would be continuing every week. Her combination of teaching through visual, kinetic, and auditory reaches everyone in the group. Jill’s knowledge and experience brings a level of excellence for the betterment of our kiddos to thrive beyond learning songs.
Jill has made us feel like we are the only family she has been helping. I know she makes every family feel that way, which is incredibly special. She is passionate to improve the lives of people with Down Syndrome and connect families within the DS community. I am thankful she is a part of our lives and guided us to GiGi’s Playhouse. Jill is encouraging and compassionate, which is something every mother needs in their lives. She was my rock through the first year of my new life in motherhood and our new life with Down Syndrome. Our journey would look completely different if it had not been for Jill Rabin.”
~ Alyse Mastrodonato, Conner’s Mom
“I continue to be amazed at what Jill does for our Down syndrome community. She is fiercely passionate about children and adults with Down syndrome. She gives of her own time to help at GiGi’s Playhouse. When Cara was a baby she encouraged me to get involved at GiGi’s because she knew what an amazing place it is. I know how hard she worked to help get the GiGi’s Playhouse in Deerfield started and she continues to be present and help with programming so kids with Down syndrome, in our community, can now have access to her knowledge and services. I’ve said it many times before but Cara’s speech is one of her strengths, because of Jill! I am so thankful that Jill worked with her at a time that was so crucial to her development. The toys she brought, the exercises she did, all helped Cara develop strong oral muscles that have helped her speech. Those are all wonderful things, but equally as wonderful was having someone who believed in Cara as much as I did and showed me how having a child with Down syndrome didn’t have to be scary or isolating. Jill was the first person who made me realize life wouldn’t just be ok it would be even better because of Cara. I am forever grateful for what she has done for Cara and for what she continues to do for the Down syndrome community.”
~ Debra Semple, Cara’s Mom
Thank you Jill! We are so proud of you!