Our Team


Karen Russell-Owens, Community Engagement

Karen Russell Owens has worked in Special Education for over 20 years. She has volunteered for many organizations such as Turning Point, IOLS, Refuge for Woman, and Willow Creek. She volunteered for GiGi’s Playhouse for 6 years in McHenry and was their co-chair for their Spring Fashion Show for two years.  GiGi’s Playhouse captured her heart from the start.

Karen lives in Huntley with her husband Troy. She has 3 children Tyler, Nicholas, Emilee and two step daughters Callie and Chloe.

She is excited to bring her passion and energy to GiGi’s.


Michael Scott, Hugs + Mugs Store Manager

Michael graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in Sport Management. He worked as a Programs manager for a sports facility and helped facilitate summer camps and an afterschool care program at this location. Michael is currently assisting at the Northern Illinois Special Recreation Association with sports programs as well as coaching a Special Olympics Bocce Ball Team.  

In his free time, Michael likes to take his dog for walks, spend time with family and friends, and watch the Chicago Bulls and Chicago Cubs.  


Mary Jo Shepherd, Career Development Manager

I have been married for 27 years and have 5 great children. My youngest daughter Annabelle was born with Down syndrome which lead me to GiGi’s Playhouse.  

I walked into the playhouse in January 2006. My daughter Annabelle was 6 weeks old. I was looking for a place to celebrate my daughter, I did not need or want a support group, I wanted a celebration.  

I jumped in right away and was volunteering and helping with special events.  

Once Annabelle went to preschool I went back to school for my Master of Social Work. During that time, I was invited to do my internship with GiGI U. They just finished their pilot stage and were ready to welcome their first class. 

I fell in love and have been working with the career development program and have worked in all three parts. I was the GiGi U program coordinator, store manager and now career development manager. 

I have spent some time working with other mental health agencies, but I have to say that I am in love with our adults.