Site Coordinator: Kaitlyn Wojciechowski
Program Coordinator: Kathleen Tynes
Volunteer Coordinator: Allie Plancon
- Governance Committee: Denise Moore
- Outreach: Amy Tyrrell & Dawn Conn
- Programs: Kathleen Tynes
- Marketing & Communications: Jocelyn Cook
- Fundraising & Events: Elizabeth Larson & Amy Tyrrell
- Facility: Lisa Kocab
My name is Wendy Arabo. I am an interior designer and have owned my own company for the past 17 years. I am now Managing Cercan Tile USA located at the MI Design Center. I’m a mother to 3 wonderful children. My oldest Rio is a surgical tech, my youngest Reno is an attorney and my middle daughter is Mary is 26 years old and has Down syndrome. When Mary was born, my late father told me “God has blessed you with the most amazing challenge” and a blessing she is to me, her siblings which she is extremely close to and our entire family. Owning my company has afforded me the opportunity to be involved in my children’s school, from being a room mom, PTA, sports, Forensics and fundraising events. I was also involved in DSG fundraising and other projects. Spending time with my family brings me most joy. I enjoy traveling, reading and going to the movies. My family and are committed to support GiGi’s Playhouse Detroit in any way we are needed. GiGi’s offers Mary a wonderful community of her pears to belong to!
Hello! My name is Jocelyn, Cook and I live in Birmingham with my husband Chris and our daughter Julia (9) who has Down syndrome. Shortly after Julia was born I became an advocate for inclusion and early intervention for children with Down syndrome after experiencing the large disparity families were facing in access to support services for their children. Serving on my school district Inclusion Task Force and with Friends of Different Learners, a support organization in our school district, have provided an avenue to help families navigating the unique needs of their children. Professionally I am the Director of Marketing and Client Services for a local therapy clinic serving children and teens with autism, Down syndrome and other special needs, which merges my personal and professional experience in an amazing way. I joined the GiGi's Playhouse Detroit start up team in 2017 and have supported our efforts since then with marketing and strategy for our events and Playhouse initiatives. Our local Metro Detroit area now has an incredible resource for families impacted by Down syndrome and I'm excited to be serving an organization changing the way the world views Down syndrome!
Jeff Harper is a Principal Training Engineer with MathWorks. He teaches people across the country how to use the MathWorks software for engineering and science applications. He has a Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering from Michigan State University, and an MBA from Walsh College. Jeff is a co-inventor on two U.S. patents. In his spare time, he likes to visit amusement parks and ride roller coasters, having ridden more than 900 different coasters. He is the proud father of two beautiful children, Katie and Grant.
Kim lives in Southfield, MI with her husband Jeff, daughter Katie (11), and Grant (9). Grant was diagnosed with Down syndrome at birth, securing their spot in the lucky few. Kim is a 1990 graduate of Michigan State University and 1996 graduate of Thomas M. Cooley Law School. After 15+ years in the title business, Kim turned her attention full time motherhood. In her spare time she enjoys doing DIY projects and being an independent fashion retailer for LuLaRoe.
My name is Colleen Holmes. My husband Mark and I are Michiganders and have one daughter, Elizabeth. We didn’t know that when Elizabeth was born that she would have Down syndrome. I can’t imagine our lives without her, she is amazing. I’ve been a board member of GiGi’s Playhouse Detroit since the start-up. Over the past 22 years I have also worked with Joni and Friends SE MI, DSG of SE MI, and the Parent Advisory Cmte of Oakland County through Elizabeth’s middle and high school years. I am grateful to have the opportunity to meet other families who care for loved ones also affected by disability. Our life’s passion is to help build a place for families to belong, to be understood and provide them with the resources to grow and be successful. GiGi’s Playhouse Detroit does just that. Our lives are enriched beyond measure being a part of GiGi’s.
I am Elizabeth Holmes, age 22. I go to Troy Center For Transition, a post-secondary school. I love it! I work at different job sites several days per week with my team of students and my job coach. It’s awesome. I am so happy about GiGi’s Playhouse. I go there to meet my friends for Fantastic Friends and I exercise with GiGiFIT. GiGiFIT helps me get a routine of exercise and good eating habits…it’s my favorite. Plus, the reading tutoring w/ my volunteer Mary was fun too. I am a young lady who has Down syndrome. My family tells me I can do anything I put my self into. That’s why I really like being a self-advocate to show my friends it’s important to speak your mind and be proud of yourself. I like being on GiGi’s board with my other friends who are self-advocates too.
Taylor Johnson resides in Warren, Michigan, with her husband, Kyle, and son, George. Taylor holds a BFA in Theatre from Wayne State University and an MA in Applied Drama/Theatre for Young Audiences from Eastern Michigan University and has been working in the professional theatre space for 7 years. In 2012, she began working for OpenSpot Theatre (formerly 4th Wall Theatre Company), and began teaching theatre to people of all ages with disabilities. Her work there inspired her in more ways than one and in 2019, Taylor and her husband joined the registry of hopeful adoptive parents with the National Down Syndrome Adoption Network. Just a few weeks after GiGi's Playhouse Detroit opened their doors for the first time, a baby boy with Down syndrome was born on the other side of the country and would eventually be brought home to the Detroit area. The Johnson family welcomed their chromosomally enhanced kiddo, George, in March of 2019. Since then, Taylor has become very passionate about ensuring that George has equal opportunity and appreciation in his community. Very soon after he came home, George visited GiGi's Playhouse Detroit for the first time, and has continued to attend since. The Johnsons are so very grateful for a community to celebrate our wonderful kiddos with Down syndrome!
Dave Kocab graduated from John Carroll University in 1994 and earned his J.D. from the University of Michigan in 1997. He is currently Associate General Counsel at Aptiv, a global automotive supplier, and lives with his wife Lisa and their five sons in Brighton. Their fifth son, PJ, was born in 2011 while the family lived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. PJ’s diagnosis of Down syndrome was a surprise and Dave and Lisa struggled to find anything they could about PJ’s extra chromosome and the possibilities for his future. When Lisa discovered GiGi’s Playhouse, the two immediately decided to bring one to Milwaukee and formed the team that opened the first playhouse in Wisconsin in 2014. Their family relocated back to the Detroit area in 2016 and began work with a new team to bring the first GiGi's Playhouse to Michigan in 2019. In addition to his involvement with GiGi’s Playhouse of Detroit, Dave coaches his sons’ sports teams whenever he can, including football and basketball. Dave has also been a member of the Board of Directors of the Friends for Animals of Metro Detroit since 2011, helping with a multi-million dollar campaign to a open their new state-of-the-art animal adoption and education center in 2018.
Lisa lives in Brighton with her husband David of 23 years. Together they have five children, all boys, ranging in age from 22 years down to 9 years old. Their youngest child, PJ, has a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism. Lisa has been teaching on and off since 1994 and currently teaches fourth grade in Brighton Area Schools. Lisa was the board chair for the special education advisory board for the Mequon-Thiensville School District while her family was living in Wisconsin. Lisa was the board president and the led the start up and opening of the Milwaukee playhouse. Lisa and David returned to Michigan two years ago and feel so blessed to have such a great group families that have bonded together to open the first playhouse in Michigan.
Denise lives in Birmingham, Michigan with her husband Bob and three children – twin sons Evan and Kyle and daughter Amber, who has Down syndrome. Denise graduated from Michigan State University with a B.A. in Business. Denise’s professional background is commercial insurance underwriting. After the birth of her daughter, Denise quit the insurance business and became a special needs advocate. From 2012 - 2016, she served on the Board of Friends of Different Learners (a special needs PTA for Birmingham School District), 2 years of those years as President. In addition to serving on the steering committee to open GiGi’s Playhouse - Detroit, Denise runs Disability Awareness Workshops for all 4th grade students in the Birmingham School District. Denise and her family are excited to have a GiGi's Playhouse in Detroit, and are especially glad it offers programs for people of all ages.
My name is Elizabeth (Betsy) Larson and I am the big sister to four amazing ladies with Down Syndrome. Sammy, Jayne, Agnes, and Rosie have been some of the biggest blessings in my life. From an early age, I surrounded myself with people from the special needs community – this included being a buddy in elementary school and volunteering at the Special Olympics in high school and college. These experiences helped develop my career in financial planning for families with loved ones who have disabilities. I live in Southfield with my husband, Bob, and my daughter, Esther. Soon after moving here, Esther and I started volunteering at Fantastic Friends and I became a literacy tutor. I’m also the new program leader of Teen Tastic. I feel lucky to be a part of this wonderful community of people. I’m excited to contribute to the growth of GiGi’s Playhouse Detroit and enhance awareness of Acceptance For All!
I am a proud Detroiter, born & bred! I’m also a Spartan, having earned a BA in Employment/Labor Relations from Michigan State University. I have worked for the State of Michigan for the past 32 years, 14 as a Probation Officer and entering my 19th year as a Regulation Officer with the Michigan Gaming Control board.
In 1992, I was blessed with the gift of becoming Blake’s mother. Our journey has presented an awesome opportunity for personal growth and appreciation. Blake’s growth and happiness became my primary concern and our village’s chief aspiration. We set out to create opportunity for Blake to have experiences which would instill and enhance self-esteem, grow his awareness and self-advocacy, perpetually develop his independence and his confidence in the fact, he too deserves “a seat at the table”. Blake and I have always sought opportunities for ourselves and to enjoin others’ participation in groups and activities which would increase awareness, exposure, growth, inclusion and acceptance not only for Blake and myself but for our family, friends, neighbors and our community, at large.
I had the pleasure of serving as a board member of VSAMI, the local arm of an international arts agency started by Jean Kennedy Smith of the Kennedy Center which provides opportunity for artistic growth and expression of individuals with varied disabilities. I also had the great opportunity to represent the Children’s Hospital of Michigan (CHM) Family Centered Care Advisory Council as the parent representative to the CHM Quality Assurance Committee.
I became aware of GiGi’s Playhouse at its beginning thru one of Blake’s Godmothers who resides in the Chicagoland area. With the current challenge of identifying and accessing adult opportunities for Blake and his peers, I was excited to hear GiGi’s had made its way to Michigan and wanted to contribute to the development of this great resource for our Down syndrome community.
Allie recently moved back to Troy after attending Grand Valley State University. She received her bachelor’s degree in Marketing. Since moving home, she has started working for United Shore, as a Business Innovation Specialist. She is excited to meet so many new volunteers, who are as excited about what GiGi’s Playhouse provides as she is!
Heather Sullivan lives in Beverly Hills MI with her husband David. They have two children, Katie (23) and Sean (19). Heather has a Master of Accounting and Bachelor of Business Administration from the University of Michigan. She has worked at PriceWaterhouseCoopers for 30 years and is currently an Assurance Director in PwC's Private Company Services practice.
I grew up in Michigan and graduated from Michigan State with a BA in Special Education. I moved to Atlanta, GA straight after college and taught special education for 6 years. I became a stay at home mom after the birth of our 1st daughter and we moved to Chicago to be closer to family. In preparation of the birth of our 2nd daughter, we moved to Royal Oak to be even closer to family. I have a very strong passion for GiGi’s Playhouse. I have a brother who is 25 years old with Down syndrome; my husband has an uncle with Down syndrome and we’ve spent many years coaching Special Olympics. I discovered GiGi’s in Atlanta where I was a literary tutor and started their math program before I moved. After getting settled in Chicago I started volunteering at their playhouse with their tutoring program. I took a part time position there as their project coordinator. It was very hard to leave Chicago, but I am so excited to get to know the Detroit families and volunteers!
Amy Tyrrell lives in Beverly Hills MI with her husband David of 23 years and her children Luke (20) and Daniel (16). Amy is an Executive Recruiter and has had her own business since 2007 called Zeal Recruiting Services. She has worked in corporate and agency settings leading recruiting functions since 1994 in the metro Detroit area after graduating from Michigan State University with a BS in Employment Relations. She is active at both boys activities and schools.
My name is Luke Tyrrell. I’m a self-advocate on the Board at GiGi’s Playhouse Detroit. I have 1 younger brother Danny, my parents are David and Amy, and we also have a golden retriever name Ziggy. My family rocks! I am an Assistant Literacy Tutor for a young boy. I also participate in many programs at GiGi’s like Fantastic Friends and GiGiFIT Adult. I attend a post-secondary program with job training through Birmingham Public Schools.
Kaitlyn lives in Sterling Heights with her husband Anthony. Kaitlyn graduated from Wayne State University with a Bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies. While attending college Kaitlyn supported herself nannying, which is where her love for children developed. In her free time Kaitlyn enjoys playing golf with her husband, creating DIY home decor items, and browsing the aisles of Target. Kaitlyn’s favorite thing about GiGi’s Playhouse is the community. She loves to see parents connecting and mentoring one another.