Interview by Aria Kim
Allow us to introduce you to our fabulous volunteer, Rachel Eckert! Rachel has been a blessing to the GiGi’s Playhouse community as the leader of our adult class called Friends, Fun & Fitness. Rachel embodies the welcoming energy, positivity, and enthusiasm we strive to have here, and her passion for raising awareness for individuals with Down syndrome is reflected in her service. Get to know her more below!
Hi Rachel! To start, what do you do for a ‘day job’?
I’m a Community Living Services provider for four young adults from three different families. I have a few fitness side-gigs, as well.
When did you start volunteering at GiGi’s Playhouse?
The passage of time is always a mystery to me, but I started pre-pandemic, with the GiGiFIT program.
How did you find out about GiGi’s Playhouse?
It was basically, a ‘friend-of-a-friend’ situation. I live in the community and have been involved with other groups that work with disabled folks.
What is it about the mission of GiGi’s Playhouse that appeals to you personally?
Oh, everything, really! I love that it’s free of charge to all families, that there are programs for all ages, and that people who have any sort of different learning style or physical challenge are welcome. It’s simply a wonderful place to be!
What do you love about being at the Playhouse? What keeps you coming back?
Great things happen at GiGi’s! Learning, exploring, laughing, dancing, acting, creating, and making connections — not just among the participants, but their families as well.
How has volunteering impacted your life?
You really can’t get involved at GiGi’s and remain the same. Being with my friends at the Playhouse has broadened my ability to relate with others and enabled me to cut loose and be my passionate, silly self. Everyone there is truly accepting, and I never feel unwelcome, embarrassed, or afraid to speak my mind. That’s probably the thing I appreciate most. We can all be ourselves without fear of shame or rejection.
Do you have a favorite memory from volunteering?
The first couple sessions were a learning experience for all of us. I decided to hold an Olympic event on the last day, complete with running the Olympic torch (made from my lint roller and tissue paper), decathlon events, and other silly challenges. We all had a blast!
What would you say is the biggest misconception about individuals with Down syndrome?
A generalization I’ve heard my whole life is, “people who have Down syndrome are always so happy”. While I agree, most of my friends at GiGi’s are good-natured, that stereotype is actually quite limiting. They are well-rounded people who have the same range of emotions as anyone else. Just because they may appear to smile more often doesn’t mean they don’t also feel sadness, apprehension, embarrassment, rejection, longings, and other emotions that are part of the human experience.
Why do you believe people with Down syndrome are an important part of our community?
I’m lucky to have been able to spend time with some of my friends out in the community, and their desire to connect and converse with others is evident. People are often drawn to their friendliness and openness, and those who are wise enough to engage will walk away with a smile and good feelings. Their contagious joy and light are definitely something we need more of in this world.
What would you say to someone who is considering volunteering at GiGi’s Playhouse?
Without hesitation, I say, “DO IT!” You very well may find a home that you’ll never want to leave. The impact you will have on another’s life is hard to measure, but it is real, and it matters. Moreover, you will be forever changed by the unconditional love, acceptance, and unique outlook you’ll gain by becoming friends with the awesome folks who attend GiGi’s.
We have all sorts of volunteer positions that would certainly suit your interests and time allowance. Check out the opportunities on our website: https://gigisplayhouse.org/detroit/get-involved/
If you have any questions, email email@example.com or call us at 248-557-9899.