About Hugs & Mugs

GiGi University graduates receive a certificate of achievement, a personalized resume highlighting their unique skills and abilities. Graduates then move on to our second program, “Hugs & Mugs”.

The “Hugs & Mugs” Career Training Program is a retail café and gift shop run by adult mentors with Down syndrome and program support staff. The eighteen-week career training program places GiGi University graduates as “interns” at Hugs & Mugs, which sells specialty coffee and gelato, as well as personalized gifts including water bottles, cell phone cases, travel mugs, and more.

Interns are coached by mentors – other young adults with Down syndrome can excel in their internship into employment opportunities beyond the program. Hugs & Mugs is open 5 days a week and interns typically work 16-20 hours each week. Interns learn customer service skills (taking and filling orders at the counter); sales skills (using the cash register machines, making change, and issuing receipts); food & beverage service skills (preparing and serving coffee, espresso and other specialty drinks), logistics and fulfillment skills (order packaging and shipping), IT skills (downloading, filling, confirming and tracking online orders), and more.

GiGi’s Playhouse launched two unique programs that prepare adults with Down syndrome for future employment, and place them as interns in a retail setting to provide real-world job experience.

The first program, GiGi University, is an innovative educational program that builds participants’ confidence, career skills and interests, and health and wellness.


GiGi University:

This one-of-a-kind program is tailored specifically for adults with Down syndrome and offered free of charge. Curriculum focuses on three essential areas:

  • Confidence, featuring modules on Self-Esteem, Self-Care, and Self-Advocacy
  • Health, with modules on Fitness, Nutrition
  • Safety; and Whole Self, offering modules on Communication Skills, Career Skills, and Special Interests.

They also gain a wealth of new knowledge – from how to prepare for a job interview and how to communicate effectively with a supervisor, to how to handle stressful work situations. GiGi University is an intensive twelve-week program which meets for 4 ¼ hours three times per week.

GiGi University and the Hugs & Mugs career training programs have various positive impacts on adults with Down syndrome and the community at large. Adults with Down syndrome directly benefit from learning job readiness skills at GiGi University including workplace etiquette skills, how to prepare for job interviews, maintain or improve their health by engaging in nutritious eating habits and regular exercise, and more. During their internship at Hugs & Mugs adults gain greater self-esteem and confidence through actual on-the-job experience. And many may go on to successfully secure jobs or volunteer opportunities in the community.

Both programs also benefit the community by educating the general public about individuals with Down syndrome, their talents and their character. Placing graduates of GiGi University as frontline customer service interns allows community residents and area business professionals to interact with them in a familiar retail setting. Our gelato and specialty coffee drinks combined with a casual and relaxed setting create meaningful opportunities for interns and customers to engage each other. Every interaction and friendly conversation reminds the community that stereotypes and discrimination toward people with Down syndrome must change. In doing so, more employers will seriously consider hiring job candidates with Down syndrome. Communities, companies and people grow stronger together. Everybody wins.