President: Elizabeth Thorn
Vice President: Elizabeth Ray
Secretary: Shanda Kaiser
Site Coordinator: Shannon Powell
Additional Board Members: Erin Kaminsky, Ghita Mueller, Chad Noyes, Jill Rabin, Lisa Strons, Marisa Dunn
Outreach: Elizabeth Ray, Shanda Kaiser, Chad Noyes
Programs: Jill Rabin, Erin Kaminsky
Marketing & Communications: Chad Noyes
Fundraising/Events: Liz Thorn, Lisa Strons, Ghita Mueller
Facility: Liz Thorn, Ghita Mueller
Liz Thorn is the founder and President of GiGi's Playhouse Deerfield. She lives in Lincolnshire with her wife, Denise and three sons; 3 year old twins, Nathan and Oliver (who has Down syndrome), and 7 month old Colin. Liz has a background as a Physical Therapist and has been in healthcare management for over 7 years. She became involved with GiGi's Playhouse following Oliver's birth when she visited the Hoffman location and saw firsthand the great work being done. She's excited to have a Playhouse in her community to not only benefit Oliver, but all of his current and future friends.
Elizabeth Ray joined the team for GiGi's Playhouse Deerfield when the start-up team formed. Her involvement with and passion for the Down syndrome community began when her youngest child was born in 2016 with DS. From the first time she walked into a Gigi's Playhouse she knew it was a place and a resource that all families with a loved one with DS should have within their community; she now serves as the Vice President of this location. In addition to working on the GiGi's Playhouse executive board Elizabeth is a 7th grade science teacher and is married with 4 children. In her free time she loves to spend time with her family, run and cook.
Shanda Kaiser loves being a part of the GiGi’s Playhouse Deerfield team. She grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah and received a degree in psychology from the University of Utah. She enjoyed working with people and went on to get her Master’s Degree in Social Work from the University of Michigan. After working in a variety of settings, she chose to stay at home after having her first child. Shanda now has 3 children and her youngest child has Down syndrome. Shanda enjoys volunteering in her kid’s schools and with the local Learning Difference Association. She’s thrilled to be working as part of a team to open a GiGi’s Playhouse near her home. GiGi’s Playhouse will benefit her daughter and many others in the community. It will also be a wonderful place for the community to come together and make a difference.
Erin Kaminsky joined the GiGi’s Playhouse Deerfield team in 2018. Upon graduating with a B.A. from the University of Chicago in 1998, Erin worked in operations management and then went on to pursue her childhood passion—teaching German. She holds a Masters in teaching English as a second language. Erin has been teaching German to young children since 2001 and since 2010 she has been the head of the German program at Highcrest Middle School and Wilmette Junior High School. Erin and her husband, Mac, have two children, one of whom has Down syndrome. Erin is excited to give back to the Gigi’s community that enabled her daughter with DS to start reading before the age of 3 and has provided her family with a network of support. As a board member, Erin is committed to helping other families realize all of the joy and potential that their children with this extra chromosome have to offer.
Ghita Mueller is a residential Real Estate Broker with Coldwell Banker, Libertyville. Her expertise includes contract negotiations, marketing, real estate management, sales and customer service. Ghita has been a real estate agent for over 25 years and services the North Shore, Lake County and the north side of Chicago. She was elected to the Hawthorn District #73 School Board for the 2012-2016 term. Her charitable work includes time with Habitat for Humanity, Chicago Cares and Literacy Volunteers of America. Ghita earned her Bachelors of Science degree in Marketing from the University of Illinois, Chicago. She and her husband, Keith, have two beautiful daughters, Kyra (born in 2003) and Hayden (born with Down syndrome in 2006) and two fun "fur babies" (aka dogs), Charlie & Codie.
Chad Noyes is a financial services professional with an emphasis on residential mortgage financing with the Ryan Cotter Team in Chicago. He has the advanced degrees of CLU (Chartered Life Underwriter), ChFC (Chartered Financial Consultant) and ChSNC (Chartered Special Needs Consultant) related to insurance and family protection. He and his wife, Dani, were expecting their 2nd child (Charlie) when they found out early in the pregnancy that he had Down syndrome. Unfortunately Charlie was delivered stillborn due to complications related to Down syndrome. At the time, Gigi’s Playhouse was an important support system to help process their loss. Since then, Chad has been working with Gigi’s Playhouse Deerfield on the Outreach and Communications Committees to help spread awareness and acceptance to local individuals, families and communities about Down syndrome. Chad and Dani have three other children - Cooper (7), Cameron (3) and Charlotte (9 months)….and are working hard to raise the next generation of Chicago Cubs fans!
Jill Rabin is a pediatric speech pathologist and international board certified lactation consultant who works with infants to three year olds. She has a private practice in the Chicagoland area where she primarily sees at-risk and special needs breastfeeding patients, children with Down syndrome and children with feeding aversion through the early intervention system. She often follows her patients with Down syndrome as breastfeeding newborns until they age out of the early intervention system. She also counsels pregnant mothers of babies with a prenatal diagnosis about how to establish breastfeeding. She utilizes the Baby-Led Weaning approach in transitioning babies to solid food feedings, and has found great success in using this approach with babies with Down syndrome and feeding aversion. She has lectured nationally and internationally on topics related to breastfeeding at-risk infants, feeding aversion and the impact of Baby-Led Weaning as a method to transition to solids. She has authored chapters in a book called Nursing Down Syndrome which is due to be published in the fall of 2018. She has also been a guest blogger writing posts on facilitating breastfeeding in babies with Down syndrome for Julia’s Way. It is her goal to build a collaborative relationship between speech pathologists and lactation consultants in hopes of increasing the possibility of successful breastfeeding, especially for at-risk infants.
Lisa Strons is married to Eric, and is mother to two beautiful girls, Kelly (11) and Avery (8). Avery was born with Down Syndrome. Lisa is an alumnus of Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa with a degree in Life Sciences. Upon retiring from Abbott Laboratories with 26 years of service, she has started a new career at Abbvie. Lisa feels honored to be part of the Board of Directors for GIGI’s Deerfield. She looks forward to positively impacting the families of the North Shore of Chicago who have been touched by Down Syndrome.
Marisa lives in Deerfield with her husband, Ed, and their two children, Eleanor (has Down syndrome) and James. Marisa is a labor and delivery nurse at Highland Park Hospital, where she is fortunate to meet and congratulate new parents upon the birth of their baby with Down syndrome. Marisa became involved in GiGi’s Playhouse when the start up team began. She can’t wait to see how the Playhouse will benefit the entire community - individuals with Down syndrome and their families as well as the supportive community members generously volunteering their time to ensure the Playhouse always runs smoothly! Marisa is excited to see Generation G in action every day!
Shannon started at the GiGi's Playhouse National Office in 2015 as a place to learn and grow doing something positive while she figured out her long term career goals. Within a few months of her position at GiGi's she "drank the kool-aid" and realized that this was no longer a stepping stone but a life mission. Shannon worked as the jack-of-all trades in many different departments at the National Office but found her niche in marketing and supporting the start-up teams. Working with the Deerfield team inspired her and when the opportunity arose to run the new location she jumped at the chance. She looks forward to connecting to families at the new playhouse and helping to change the way the world sees Down syndrome.