It’s a New Year – a time for new beginnings, new commitments, new perspectives. And we are excited that we have welcomed three new Board members to our Detroit Playhouse Board over the past two months. Most of our Board members have been serving since the very beginning of our start up phase in late 2017. Some members have stepped down over the past year, so it’s wonderful to have fresh new advocates step up to serve, bringing new experiences and ideas with them! Get to know our three new Board members below.
As a teenager Taylor Johnson planned to move to New York after college to become a famous actress. However, when she was 19 she started teaching for a theatre company that included people of all abilities. That changed the trajectory of her career and her life. Taylor received her master’s degree in applied Drama and Theatre for Young Audiences, and her Master’s thesis was a drama curriculum that she developed that helped foster self-awareness & self-advocacy in adults with Down syndrome. “I have found that theatre is such an incredible way to unlock confidence in everyone who participates, and I love the growth I’ve seen in my students!” Through her seven years of teaching theatre Taylor says her students are her greatest teachers.
It was through this experience that Taylor and her husband Kyle were led to adopt a baby with Down syndrome in early 2019. And they have been participating in GiGi’s programs since shortly after bringing him home! George is featured in the annual GiGi’s Playhouse Calendar for 2021, proudly representing Detroit! Taylor and Kyle have also love the social events GiGi’s offers. She says, “Being with other families is like taking a great big exhale – to be able to hang out with other families that look like ours and have the same love in their hearts for Down syndrome and to celebrate milestones of any shapes and sizes is such a gift.”
Taylor is excited to jump in with the many activities of the Board, but most specifically, she wants to use her passion for advocacy – to “stand on any surface and shout how worthy and capable people with Down syndrome are. I would love to spread as much awareness to the community about the wonderful resources GiGi’s provides!”
We often hear stories of how having a sibling with Down syndrome has influenced a person’s career choice. Some may become Special Education Teachers, others Doctors. And in the case of Elizabeth (Betsy) Larson, she has four younger sisters with Down syndrome who influenced her career path.
From an early age Betsy was surrounded by people from the special needs community. She was a buddy in elementary school and volunteered at the Special Olympics in high school and college. These experiences helped her develop her career in financial planning for families with loved ones who have disabilities.
Betsy first got involved with GiGi’s Playhouse through signing up for our Over the Edge fundraiser in May 2019. She says, “Climbing down those 26 stories is not something I will soon forget!” Betsy and her daughter Esther started volunteering at Fantastic Friends soon after Over the Edge. Betsy also became a literacy tutor and is now serving as the program lead for Teentastic!
As a Board member Betsy is excited to continue to advocate for GiGi’s and working to help grow the Detroit Playhouse. She especially loves communicating the message of “Acceptance for All”!
Kathleen joins the Board while also serving as our Program Coordinator. She has also served at a few other Playhouses as her family has moved around the country. Her vast experience with the GiGi’s organization is an exceptional benefit to our Detroit Playhouse!
As many of our Board members (but not all) have a family connection to a person with Down syndrome, Kathleen has a 26 year old brother with Trisomy 21. And as with Betsy, Kathleen’s career choice was influenced by her brother. In high school she was a teacher’s aid in the resource room. The teacher would let her lead the class and that experience inspired her to change her career choice from English teacher to Special Education teacher. Kathleen taught high school Special Education for 6 years before becoming a stay-at-home mom. Additionally, Kathleen’s husband, Mike, has an uncle with Down syndrome has is very involved in his life.
It comes as no surprise that Kathleen’s passion is the GiGi’s Programs. She sees the value of the group programs because in addition to what the participants learn, they are a wonderful support to the family members. Kathleen loves to watch Moms hang out together after a program is over, sharing resources, experiences and support. Dads are able to connect with other Dads who understand. However, Kathleen loves the tutoring programs the most because she has the opportunity to watch both the student and the tutor grow and learn. The individual with Down syndrome is learning academically while the tutor is learning patience, creativity, and building their own confidence. Kathleen explains, “I’ve had so many tutors think that because they are not teachers by trade that they won’t be good tutors. Little by little they learn how to teach the student they’ve been paired with and it truly is wonderful to see their bond grow.”
Kathleen’s primary goal in joining the Board it to be a bridge between the Board and Programs. “There are often program changes from GiGi’s at the national level that impact funding, training and materials that the Board will have to make decisions on,” says Kathleen. It’s important for the Board to be informed of all the latest things happening since the free programs we provide are the heartbeat of what we do!
We hope you have enjoyed getting to know our new Board Members. We look forward to the someday in the future when you’ll have the opportunity to meet them in person at the Playhouse or an event!
Are you ready to jump in?
If you are inspired by their stories to get involved, we’d love to have you join us this year! Whether it’s volunteering as a tutor or with one of the group programs, helping with administrative tasks or fundraising events, or you’d like more information on what is involved in joining the Board, please reach out to us by email – firstname.lastname@example.org or through our Volunteer sign up!