On April 20th we had a GiGi’s University Graduation and welcomed a new group of interns into the Hugs & Mugs Cafe! This is always an exciting time! Today we are welcoming our friend Jen’s mom to the blog. Grab a cup of coffee or tea, preferably in a Hugs created mug (they are our favorite). Wait…..you do not have one yet? Oh goodness, head to our online store and pick yourself up one of these custom made by individuals with Down syndrome mug today! In a few days it will be delivered to your door, packed with care by our interns and included a special note just for you! Ok, now back to why we are here today…….enjoy.
Our Jen and the gift of GiGi U
I was already finishing up a blog post about our daughter, Jennifer’s life changing experiences at GiGi University. Had to scrap my first draft entirely. Why? Well….
Last night we attended the last Choir Concert for the school year at our local High School. We love attending these concerts, especially since they now include people who have various special needs. We were amazed at the incredible gifts of so many of the high school students, an amazing choral director, and being so proud of our daughter, Agnes.
As the program was coming to an end, BAM!
There it was, with atomic bomb force, hitting me smack between the eyes. Perhaps no one else in audience felt that rock in the pit of the stomach feeling, nor breathing stopped with a gasp. For me, the all too familiar frustration and indignation started to rise, I struggled to keep it at bay.
Discrimination. A kind most don’t see. Nonetheless, very real. This discrimination is one that is completely preventable, and one which really shouldn’t exist in today’s “modern America”.
As the incredibly wonderful program was coming to an end, the choral director took time to give tribute to each of the seniors who performed. One by one, each choir student’s name was announced. As they came on stage, each student’s future college plans were shared with the audience. Every single student will be attending college. Except. Not one of the students with special needs will be attending those universities with their peers. It was painful to witness.
Why do colleges, universities exist?
Young adults need further education to learn a profession or vocation. For people with intellectual impairments? Services stop completely, after your twenty first birthday. They enter what I call “The Big Black Hole”. It is wrong. It is a very serious discrimination.
Why doesn’t every single university and college in this country have Special Services for disabled young adults to continue to learn? Is college only for the able-bodied?
If it were your child, would you think this glaring lack of future opportunity and access to secondary education ok? It is wrong. It is discrimination of the most unacknowledged kind. It needs to change.
Oh wait! There is an organization that is slaying that “lack of secondary education discrimination dragon”………..GiGi’s Playhouse.
Here are my top 6 reasons (a list by no means complete) GiGi University is life changing for our daughter, Jen:
1. GiGi University has given Jen the opportunity to learn and continue her education. Learning is life long endeavor and people who have Down syndrome are life long learners just like everyone else.
2. GiGi University alleviates the financial strain on families to provide education and therapeutic care for young adults who live with Down Syndrome. FREE speech therapy/reading and math tutoring/vocational training gives opportunity that prevents economic barriers to growing and continuing to learn. Removing financial barriers opens doors to opportunity Removing financial barriers lifts the entire family in
Ways that are more than financial. It lifts the entire family out of the struggle of never ending obstacles and replaces the dark with a clear and vibrant message of tangible support, opening the doors to dreams and hope! It is energizing, uplifting and incredible to know someone “has your back”, even more so if it involves your child. It is healing for both student and family.
3. Attending GiGi University gives Jen so many wonderful friends, a sense of belonging; a colorful joy filled place where she is accepted, loved, challenged, embraced, nurtured and inspired to grow. This year, Jen was invited by her sweet friend, Nicole, to her very first party outside of GiGi U.
GiGi University removes the mental health stress of social isolation (which often can cause significant psychological problems for adults who live with special needs) and replaces isolation with community . Every day Jen comes home from GiGi U she is literally filled with joy.
4. GiGi University is an atmosphere where the young adults are given opportunities to learn leadership skills. Jen has had the help of peer mentors. This year she has grown so much that for the very first time, she is demonstrating a new found ability to mentor a new student herself.
5. At GiGi University Jen works on reading and writing; life skills, money skills. I love the fact that every day Jen attends GiGi U, she also has the opportunity to work on fitness skills to help battle low muscle tone. It took her awhile to fully participate, but they never gave up on her, and now her teacher tells me how much she is amazed that when it’s time to go exercise or do Zumba ~ Jen now leads the way!
6. GiGi University gives inner strength, confidence. Taking those scary baby steps to do things never done before becomes possibility. Yes, Jen look at how very much you have learned!!
It is impossible to put into human words how much better Jen’s life truly is because of GiGi University. We are beyond grateful for the gift of GiGi University in her life! We don’t know where this path will take her, but we are always willing to support her in taking that next step and to look forward to a life filled with learning, friends and joy.
Hope. GiGi University gives Jen hope. Hope for a future filled with deep happiness. In a world increasingly a threat to the very lives of people who live with disabilities, GiGi University is helping our young adults to shine. For truly, these peeps, with all their challenges are here to teach us so much about what life is really all about. I always tell our kids, everyone should have a time in life to shine, and GiGi’s Playhouse helps our young adults shine with a radiance that could change the world and make us all better people.
Yes, GiGi University has helped our Jen to shine.
“Just as one candle lights another and can light thousands
of other candles, so one heart illuminates another heart
and can illuminate thousands of other hearts.”
~ Leo Tolstoy