This week, I had the opportunity to interview Tanya Jarvis, our program leader for Teen Tastic. She shared her GiGi’s story with us-

 

Q: “What is your connection to Down syndrome?”


A:“When our first son Wil was born, we had a very unexpected diagnosis of Down syndrome. The 1st year of his life consisted of my husband and I just trying to cope and survive because it was so hard being new parents and new parents with a new diagnosis.”


Q: “How did you get connected to GiGi’s Playhouse?”


A: “When Wil was 15 months, we decided to go to an open play session at the Hoffman Playhouse. And we immediately made connections. It was really cool to see other moms who were not only encouraging of my child, but in awe of my child. When you have a child that comes with lots of difficulties, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the negative. It’s easy to get stuck in “he will never…” statements, especially when you are around your typical friends with their typical babies. Support was well-intended from my friends of course, but not always well-given. It often felt like they felt sorry for us. But moms at GiGi’s saw his best of all. They were beautifully shocked by him standing on his own and walking so soon. It was so reassuring.”


Q: “How did you start program leading?”


A: “I called the Fox Valley location and asked when Kid’s Club was, and Julie (the site coordinator at the time) said, “Whenever you want it to be”. I was confused, and then shocked because I realized she wanted me to lead it. I hadn’t led a ton of things before, but as soon as we started, we had a ball! Every month, my son Wil met with some other kids his age! Their siblings and families would come, but it was clear that this space was for them, and it felt amazing. My son even met his best friend Christian there. At the beginning, I watched social kids and less social kids sit at opposite ends of the playhouse…until pizza time. They would come and sit at the same table together. I would start to facilitate conversation. And they started to grow a community. It was for them. Eventually, Wil got too old. So we started Teen Tastic!”


Q: “Tell us about Teen Tastic.”


A: “Well, it involved the same people as Kid’s Club, just with a new name and new friends. This newness was of course hard, but bringing along the same group of friends caused our community to flourish even more. Our kids were at a more social age range, so we were able to do lots of fun activities together! We workout together, play games together, and do wild activities like truth or dare and making ice cream! There were about an equal number of guys and girls and of verbal and non-verbal teens, and this was awesome for our community.”


Q: “What makes Teen Tastic an amazing program?”


A: “People love to hear about students with different abilities that are highly involved. Wil loves to tell people about Teen Tastic. It’s totally his jam. Our goal is for him to be a leader and a self-advocate, so when he tries to co-host Teen Tastic with me, I can’t be too mad. Teen Tastic gives a voice to each participant like my son Wil. They each have a voice with each other and in the broader community. This is about building family. In my family, we have grown closer being at GiGi’s and in the Down syndrome community. In the same way, our Teen Tastic community is growing closer as a tight knit family.”

 

Thank you Tanya for all you do for our playhouse and the Down syndrome community!

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