Joe Catalano & GiGi’s Playhouse
Joe Catalano, Senior Vice President – Management, Professional & Cyber Liability in the Chicago office, is member of the Board of Managers at GiGi’s Playhouse Fox Valley. GiGi’s Playhouse originated 17 years ago in the suburbs of Chicago, IL, by Nancy Gianni. Nancy’s daughter, GiGi, was born with Down syndrome in 2002. Nancy created GiGi’s Playhouse to be a place where individuals with Down syndome would be welcomed and celebrated. GiGi’s Playhouse, a Down Syndrome Achievement Center, now has 49 locations throughout the U.S and Mexico and provides free programming and support to individuals with Down syndrome and their families. Parents are provided support from parental diagnosis and participants continue to be a part of GiGi’s Playhouse until adulthood. In addition, GiGi’s Playhouse provides free educational, therapeutic and career readiness resources helping infants through adults achieve their best of all- including getting their first jobs and participating in volunteer work.
During his interview, Joe said that he first became involved with GiGi’s Playhouse five years ago as a participant when he and his wife first discovered their daughter’s diagnosis. Over the past year, Joe became a board member, where he now helps provide high level guidance by assisting with fundraising activities for the Fox Valley location. What stood out about GiGi’s Playhouse, Joe mentions, is the goal of GiGi’s Playhouse to ensure that people with Down syndrome are accepted and embraced not only within their families, but in school, the work force and in their local communities.
In addition, Joe also notes GiGi’s Playhouse is a place where people can become involved in a myriad of ways including from providing financial support, hosting events, and organizing opportunities for children and adults with Down syndrome to volunteer which could lead to job opportunities. GiGi University is GiGi’s careeer readiness program that helps individuals with Down syndrome learn the skills to become gainfully employed. GiGi’s Playhouse in Hoffman Estates accomplishes this goal with Hugs & Mugs, a cafe that is operated by individuals with Down syndrome. The Fox Valley location is looking to have GiGi University in the near future, and Joe is helping to make it happen by participating and fundraising in events like the Chicagoland Gala and the Naperville Half Marathon & 5k, where he ran a half marathon and raised over $25,000 for GiGi’s Playhouse Fox Valley charity team.
Joe is also particularly proud of the GiGi’s Playhouse organization’s response during the pandemic. Despite the challenges, GiGi’s Playhouse has been able to transition support and programming online with GiGi’s at Home. GiGi’s at Home offers over 28 programs live each week and has over 200+ programs available On Demand. GiGi’s Playhouse also took our fundraising online with our first national virtual walk/run/ride fundraiser- Step to Accept. This virtual event raised $1.2 million for the organization –wow!
To find out more about how GiGi’s Playhouse and how they provide hope during the pandemic by providing virtual classes visit: https://www.forbes.com/sites/allisonnorlian/2020/07/14/down-syndrome-achievement-center-creates-virtual-classes-provides-hope-during-pandemic/#7c237eb107e9
Joe is a valued member of the AmWINS family. Thank you, Joe, for your kindness, openness and eagerness to support not only your daughter, but all individuals with Down syndrome. GiGi’s Playhouse Fox Valley and AmWINS are lucky to have you! In July, as we celebrate National Disability Independence Day (30 year anniversary of The Americans with Disabilities Act), we want to thank Joe for his willingness to share about GiGi’s Playhouse, a positive and inclusive place for individuals with Down syndrome and their families.
Thank you, Joe!