Volunteer Spotlight: Shae Pettinga

Shae Pettinga (Shaelyn) is a junior at Troy High School, and unlike many of her sixteen-year-old peers, she is actively committed to supporting individuals with Down syndrome both inside and outside of school. Shae began volunteering as a Literacy Tutor last fall, working with TWO participants. When one of her students had a difficult time engaging, she got creative by singing and dancing with the student as they read, which made learning way more fun. Shae said this student made incredible progress with reading in a short amount of time!

Shae found the work she was doing with GiGi’s Playhouse Detroit so rewarding that she spread the word to her school, and nominated us as the recipient of a massive dodgeball tournament fundraiser. This charity event at Troy High raised over $17,000 for our programs and participants! Needless to say, we are deeply impressed and grateful for the contributions Shae is making to our community. Please take a moment to get to know her more below.

Hi Shae, what are some of your favorite hobbies and interests?

When I’m not at GiGi’s, I play for my high school hockey team, and am also a photographer for our school yearbook.

How did you find out about GiGi’s Playhouse?

My mom told me about GiGi’s a couple years ago and I loved the idea, I just didn’t know if I could commit because of my age. When I turned 16 and could drive myself, the opportunity came up again and I decided it was time.

What about the mission of GiGi’s Playhouse appeals to you, personally?

I love being part of the movement of spreading the word that people with disabilities are just as worthy and capable as everyone else, and they can do amazing things.

What do you love about being at GiGi’s? What keeps you coming back?

I love how welcoming the staff, families, and other volunteers are. What keeps me coming back is the joy I feel with my students and the smiles we share together. We genuinely enjoy each others’ company. Being able to help people grow and learn in fun ways is an amazing experience.

How has volunteering here impacted your life?

Getting involved with GiGi’s has allowed me to step out of my comfort zone. I’m normally a person who prefers not to speak up in class or confront other people. GiGi’s has taught me valuable life skills, and I’m now able to say what I feel without shame. GiGi’s has made me realize I have a purpose in the world, which is exciting!

Do you have a favorite memory from volunteering?

There are a lot of memories I cherish. One time, Sarah and I were playing a game to match letters and all of a sudden she started laughing and rolling around on the ground. This made me laugh as well, and I could feel everyone looking at us. Then a ripple of contagious laughter spread throughout the Playhouse. Another memory is of Grayson. We didn’t see each other the week before and as soon as he walked in the door, he ran over with a big smile saying, “MISS SHAE!” This was really special for me.

What would you say is the biggest misconception about individuals with Down syndrome?

I think the biggest misconception people have is thinking individuals with Down syndrome are not capable of achieving. I’ve only volunteered at GiGi’s for four months and have already seen so much growth and accomplishment in the participants. From small to large new skills, there is always something to celebrate.

Why do you believe people with Down syndrome are an important part of our community?

People with Down syndrome have a lot to teach those of us without DS. The individuals I work with have taught me key values of life, like confidence, speaking, and truly understanding one another. People with Down syndrome make our world better.

What would you say to someone who is considering volunteering at GiGi’s Playhouse?

Go for it! Nothing should stand in your way. When you walk into GiGi’s, you enter a safe, comforting, and loving place for everyone. All you have to do is be willing to accept, value, and enjoy people who are different than you.

Do you have a favorite quote?

I actually have 2!

“Whatever you are, be a good one.” ~ Abraham Lincoln

“Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.” ~ William James

Those are fabulous quotes to live by and needless to say, Shae is a good one and what she does definitely makes a difference. She fully embodies what it means to be #GenerationG, by being accepting, generous, and kind. We are beyond thrilled she found us and hope she continues to volunteer at our Playhouse for a long time!

 Are you feeling inspired??

We have all sorts of volunteer opportunities that would certainly suit your interests and time allowance. Please join us for volunteer orientation, hosted every 1st Saturday of the month from 10:30am – noon. Light refreshments will be provided. If you have any questions, email volunteerdetroit@gigisplayhouse.org or call the Playhouse at 248-557-9899.

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