Mike Cirigliano - President
Mike, owner of Cirigliano Insurance and Financial Services agency, has been honored to be part of the GiGi’s Playhouse Long Island team after sponsoring the very first fundraising event that was held at Hoyt Farm Nature Preserve. His role has evolved from Financial Chair of the start-up committee to President of the Board. Mike and his wife Holly currently have a 5-year-old son and a 3-year-old daughter. Their niece Bella was their spark to get involved! GiGi's Playhouse Long Island's center will change lives through consistent delivery of free educational, therapeutic-based and career development programs for individuals with Down syndrome, their families, and the community. We aspire to help promote Global Acceptance. Mike also sits as a Board of Director for the Greater Patchogue Chamber of Commerce, as Chair of the Family Fun Event Committee for the Chamber, as a member of the Patchogue Rotary Club, as a member of the Patchogue Non-Profit Committee, coaches Baseball in the North Patchogue Medford Youth Athletic Club and coaches U6 Boys soccer and U4 Girls soccer divisions through the Patchogue-Medford Youth Soccer League.
Jennifer Netter - Vice President
Jennifer and her fiancé Darren have four beautiful girls between them. Their youngest, Ruari, is their 10-year-old rock star with Down Syndrome. Being her parents has been one of the most rewarding experiences of their lives. They are huge proponents for creating awareness and social acceptance for individuals with different abilities. Jennifer has served on many early educational committees, assisted with fundraising and outreach for many organizations for children, graduated Parent Leadership Training Institute program and previously served as part the Start Up Committee for GiGi’s Playhouse Westchester. Their love for GiGi’s Playhouse was solidified while being an integral part of many of the GiGi’s programs as well as fundraising events. They are so excited to be helping bring such a passionate organization to the community and believe it will be paramount in the paradigm shift for so many individuals and organizations. They are proud to be part of Generation G and can't wait to open GiGi's Playhouse Long Island doors very soon!!!
Pasquale Burdo - Co-Treasurer
Appointed to The Board in January 2023, Pasquale will serve as Board Member and Co-Treasurer at GiGi’s Playhouse Long Island. With over ten years of Financial Planning & Analysis experience across several different industries, he will work closely with the leadership team to develop the long-term planning process as GiGi’s Playhouse Long Island expands its academic and life skills programs, including GiGi’s University which is expected to launch as soon as funding is secured. In addition to his volunteer role at GiGi’s, Pasquale sits on the Finance and Instructional Program Committee’s for the Patchogue-Medford School District, and coaches soccer for the U6 Boys and U5 Girls divisions through the Patchogue-Medforth Youth Soccer League.
Emily Ginas - Secretary
A 2021 graduate from St. John’s University—Rome, Mastering in Sustainability and Development with a focus on nonprofit organizations. Emily is a Patchogue native, graduating from PMHS in the class of 2015. Emily’s love and passion for helping others and the community is what led her to GiGi's Playhouse Long Island as our first Site Coordinator. Working in her hometown was very fulfilling and rewarding. She now looks forward to her new Board Member role with GiGi's Playhouse Long Island, as the Secretary. She is most excited to continue to see all of the smiling faces of our participants as the come through the Playhouse!
Elizabeth “Liz” Barone - GiGi Playhouse LI Ambassador
I would like to share my journey to becoming a GiGi playhouse brand ambassador. When I was born, the doctors shared with my parents that I had Down Syndrome, my parents did not know this prior to my birth. They felt unprepared for raising a child with Down Syndrome; but they immediately educated themselves and set out to find programs to help me reach my full potential. I attended a special school, ACDS. I learned how to communicate using sign language. My verbal language came later in my development: Hence, learning ASL was so important in helping me communicate with others. When I was older, my verbal skills progressed. My love of ASL was always with me. I graduated high school with an IEP diploma. I enrolled at Suffolk Community College. I took four sign language courses. I wanted to attain a GED degree; but, since I only had an IEP diploma, I hit a roadblock in my educational aspirations. In the spring of 2021, GiGi Playhouse Long Island opened. I had been following their fundraising campaigns to get the needed funds to open this playhouse. I became a brand ambassador in the fall of 2022. Our board president, Michael Cirigliano (and my literacy tutor-Linda Umbach) knew of my goals to self-advocate. I found my place! GiGi’s playhouse has meant a great deal to me and my friends. In being a brand ambassador, I can work on my communication skills, public speaking, and confidence. When I was younger a place like this did not exist. I wish I had had the support that is part of the Playhouse community. Nancy Gianna had an idea over 20 years ago following the birth of her daughter, The GiGi. Nancy realized how important it was for programs to be available to individuals with Down syndrome. As a Brand Ambassador, I can network with businesses and schools in the area. I can network and share the message of Acceptance for All! There are no limits as a Brand Ambassador! I have found my mission!
Angelique Sternberger - Board Member
Angelique is very excited to be a part of the GiGi’s Playhouse Long Island team! Angelique has been a volunteer, part of our Fundraising & Events team, our Theatre Fundraiser Chair and now a board member. Her son DJ had Down Syndrome and unfortunately passed away 5 years ago. Angelique wishes she would have had a place like GiGi’s Playhouse Long Island to go to for support in those early days of DJ's diagnosis. A place where you go to talk to others with similar experiences, somewhere to go for support, a place to meet and discuss what is going on in your life would have been amazing. GiGi's Playhouse Long Island will not only offer support for parents with a child with Down Syndrome but is a place individual’s with Down Syndrome can go to for tutoring, to socialize, to exercise and participate in other events/programs that will be offered. It will help individuals gain skills to be the best that they can be in the future. I am passionate about opening up GiGi’s Playhouse Long Island to help all people with Down Syndrome and their families. Although DJ is no longer with me, I am so thankful to be involved to honor him and his memory.
Amanda Wood - Events Director
Amanda is the loving mother of her son Jude, who has Down syndrome. Through word of mouth and mutual contacts, Amanda was introduced to the startup committee of GiGi's Playhouse Long Island. Amanda started as the Fundraising & Event Chair. She is very thankful to have become a part of the Down syndrome "Tribe" and even more excited to bring her background and knowledge of events to the team! Like everyone else, Amanda and Jude cannot wait to open GiGi's Playhouse Long Island's doors where local community children/adults will have the opportunity to excel and strive through free educational, therapeutic-based and career development programs. Let's change the way the world views Down syndrome together!
Elizabeth Rahne – Program Director
After teaching in the Brentwood School District for 33 years, Liz retired in 2019. Presently she enjoys spending time with her family, especially her grandchildren, Derek and Hazel. Derek has Down syndrome and is her guiding light. She wants to give him a place where he can become the best version of himself. Liz knows that GiGi’s Playhouse Long Island will offer support, education and present opportunity to our children and local communities. GiGi's Playhouse Long Island is a special place that will teach acceptance and kindness towards everyone. Liz is eagerly looking forward to seeing the doors of Gigi’s Playhouse Long Island open!
Heather Thorgersen - Board Member
Heather has over 20 years of nonprofit, training and consulting experience in education, arts education, and intellectual and development disabilities. She is the Founder of ThinkBig! Theater Arts, Inc. serves as the Director of Quality Improvement and co-advisor for the Magnificent Voices Advocacy Heather is a Region Five (Lost Island) Co-Learn for Regional Center for Workspace Transformation in partnership with The NY Alliance for Inclusion and Innovation and OPWDD.
Linda Umbach - Board Member
I am so happy and honored to have joined the GiGi's Playhouse - Long Island team. I was a special education teacher at The Carman Road School in Massapequa Park, for thirty-one years. It never felt like work or that many years! Every year was always new: new students, new ideas (but hopefully my dear staff!) and a new way to inspire students with learning challenges. I am a mom to a third-year college student . I have been married 31 years! I have two sweet cockapoos and I'm the " grandma" to my daughter's dog, Goose! I love decorating, organizing, gardening, reading, traveling and spreading kindness wherever I can! Here's to supporting the literacy program at GiGi's Playhouse Long Island! Looking forward to welcoming all participants and volunteers!
James Stein – Board Member
James, owner of Patch Print Ship & More Inc., joined the GiGi’s Playhouse Long Island board officially in 2022. James was and continues to be an integral part of the GiGiFit event securing multiple sponsors in 2021 & 2022. As well as continuing to co-chair the GiGiFit Event, James has also taken on the task to assist in developing and executing a new Fall Fundraising event. James and his husband Ron are Patchogue Village residents, and they have a teenage daughter Gabriella who plans on graduating from Patchogue-Medford High School in 2024. James currently also sits as a Board of Director for the Greater Patchogue Chamber of Commerce, as a co-chair for the Retailer's Committee, Fall Festival, and most recently James and his husband made Patchogue history with creating Patchogue's First Pride Parade.
Karen Drago, Executive Director
I have been working with children and families since 1996. I have a Masters in Social Work, which I obtained from Stony Brook School of Social Welfare in 2017. I have 17 years in the field, working with children and families. Working in a career of 12 years with families in emergency housing provided me with a skill set that would set up for any future endeavor. My recent endeavor, running Patchogue Medford Youth and Community Services, gave me a great opportunity to grow in the community and make new connections, which led me to GiGi's Playhouse. Having spent time with their board and volunteering at their events showed me the true meaning of passion towards a mission. What amazed me the most is that all of the events and programs are organized and facilitated by their board of directors, who are all volunteers. GiGi's Playhouse is already so special to me, and I am excited to join such a wonderful organization with an amazing team.
Jeanmarie, owner of Shore to Shore Cleaning, is a Patchogue Native who has been serving on committees and boards of Non-Profits since 2014. As a mom to an individual with special needs, the mission of GiGi’s Playhouse is very dear to her heart. Jeanmarie grew up with a neighbor who had a diagnosis of Down syndrome and considered him to be a dear friend to Jeanmarie and her siblings. Jeanmarie started supporting the Playhouse in 2021 and continued to do so through the last three years. Jeanmarie looks forward to being part of an amazing board of directors with a focus on the Champion 321 Donor Challenge.