Hello, my name is Erin Komacki. I have two awesome daughters. Sarah Kate is 9 and Hope who is 6 and has Down syndrome.   As a parent of a child with Down syndrome and also an educator myself, I cannot put into words how hard a pandemic can be on our children and Down syndrome community. But I will try. I still remember standing in my family room watching the press conference when it was announced that schools were being ordered to close because of the pandemic. As an educator I was worried about my students, as a parent I was worried about my children. I was especially worried for Hope, she was crushing her goals. So much so that they had to rewrite them mid year to ensure they were challenging her. However my heart sank. It sank because she cannot be out of school. She cannot be without the support of her team and she cannot afford to lose one minute of her services. This pandemic and it’s subsequent school closures impacts all students, but it effects the most vulnerable students on a much higher scale.

However, thank God for GiGi’s Playhouse. They know how much harder our children have to work to achieve what other children do so effortlessly and how closing schools would make it 10 times harder for our children with Down syndrome. In true GiGi’s fashion, within a week, A WEEK ladies and gentlemen, GiGi’s turned their programs virtual. Hope wasn’t used to seeing her teachers and therapists on screen, but somehow the GiGi’s at Home with music, with play, and activities that she has been used to since she was a only 6 weeks old it was just something she actually would participate in. GiGi’s at home was the only thing I didn’t have sit and make Hope be a part of. She wanted to do it. Her older sister Sarah Kate also was able to join in. Now remember, although she was having fun, just like everything at GiGi’s the programming is purposeful and she did learn from those classes, as she alwayshad prior to the pandemic.

I see how hard this pandemic is for my own students, how hard this switch to virtual learning has become. However somehow GiGi’s has made it work for our kids, they have given our children a sense of normalcy in world that is nothing but normal. GiGi’s is fully committed to the community and has moved mountains to be there when we needed them most. They continued 1:1 tutoring which is a major thing for so many children. The difference between distance learning at school and 1:1 tutoring is that the children are so much more engaged in their learning. When students are engaged they learn, when they are not engaged they do not learn. This is an absolute fact. That’s why in schools we are always working on best ways to keep the students engaged, because we know engagement equals learning. I hear it from others and have seen for myself, how GiGi’s and it’s volunteers work with our kids to get the best out of them and is just phenomenal. I’m beyond grateful that GiGi’s Playhouse continues their programs that make a true difference in our children’s lives.

I have heard from many families that during the spring the only thing their child would even pay attention to was GiGi’s at Home programming. What if we didn’t GiGi’s tirelessly fighting to help our children? I don’t even want to think of a world without the magic of GiGi’s Playhouse programming, and that is coming from a 17 year educator. GiGi’s is magic! GiGi’s programs are engaging and children learn skills that are so imperative to their future education. As an educator I can tell you that it has taken months for districts to figure out how to educate children virtually, but not GiGi’s. Again it took GiGi’s just one week due to their tireless work and knowing children like Hope, just could not wait,it was an absolute emergency. They needed GiGi’s, they needed those learning experiences. I don’t know how they did it, but they did. I have been in awe of GiGi’s Playhouse since Hope was born and they continue to blow me away with what they can do. Gigi’s Playhouse is an organization like none other that I have ever heard of in my life.

I want to leave you with this snippet to illustrate to you how GiGi’s Playhouse is such a life saver for my family and the whole Down syndrome community. I am originally from the great state of Nebraska, GO Big Red! My father was transferred here when I was just 7 years old. Our whole entire family still lives in Nebraska. We are a close family and we miss being with our family dearly. We have contemplated moving back to be with our incredible family. Do you want to know the reason why this is not an option anymore? It’s because there is no GiGi’s Playhouse in Nebraska yet! Let that sink in, we will not move back because there is no GiGi’s Playhouse there. The support for the whole family, the programs geared especially for Hope, there is no way we could be in a place in where we don’t have access to a GiGi’s Playhouse. GiGi’s Playhouse is our life line and has been since the day Hope came into this world. There is nothing in this world that is more important to Hope’s future than GiGi’s Playhouse. We love you GiGi’s Playhouse and I thank God every day that “the” GiGi was born to the fierce and fabulous Nancy Gianni. Hope’s future is so much brighter because of GiGi’s Playhouse and as a mother who would do anything to make life easier for her daughter, what this wonderful organization does is absolutely priceless.

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