Celebrating 5 Years of Serving Our Community

Happy 5th Anniversary to our GiGi’s Playhouse Madison Community

A message from Board President, Julie Byrnes:

The inspiration to start a GiGi’s Playhouse in Madison was sparked by the love of grandparents, Zane and Sue Torgrude, for their grandson, Noah, who was born with Down syndrome. “I realized that I needed to learn as much as possible about who he is and be able to support him to realize his full potential,” Zane shared.

After learning about GiGi’s Playhouse from Brenda Ray (Luke’s* mom), and their daughter, Jennifer (Noah’s mom), Zane and Sue set out on a mission to make a Madison playhouse a reality. They were thrilled to have the support of Patrick and Alison Ryan (Grace’s* parents) along with many other key board members and volunteers to establish GiGi’s Playhouse Madison.

*Luke and Grace are pictured on the front windows of the Playhouse!

Thanks to the determination, hard work, and dedication of our volunteers, families, supporters, staff, and board of directors over the years, together, we have come so far and overcome many obstacles! From the grass roots efforts of start-up, to the development of top-notch operations and programs, to weathering the storm of Covid, we have A LOT to celebrate!

Thanks to each of you in our community for making GiGi’s Playhouse Madison the thriving and impactful organization that it is today.


5-Years of Impact:

  • Total Volunteer Hours: 26,200
  • Number of Individual Volunteers: 900+
  • Number of Participants with Down syndrome Program Hours: 7,600
  • Number of times people have checked in for programs and events: 11,800

To commemorate our 5th anniversary, we have collected comments from some of our past and present board members and have shared them below.

A more formal celebration of our 5th Anniversary will take place at the Generation G Gala on Friday, October, 22nd at Marriott West, and we hope you will all join us.

Congratulations and Happy 5th Anniversary!

Julie Byrnes, Board President

Inspirational Words from Past and Present Board Members:

Zane Torgrude – Founding Board President Emeritus

“What brings me the most pride is the positive response from the families and individuals we serve. It is an unbelievable honor to realize that GiGi’s Playhouse is changing the lives of the people we serve daily.  This is possible because of the many donors whose hearts have recognized the unique value GiGi’s Playhouse brings to this community. The second area of pride is the passion and commitment of the hundreds of volunteers who serve to make it possible to offer the programs and services of GiGi’s Playhouse at NO COST to the participants we serve. As for the future, my hope and dreams are that, we as a community, continue to bring hope and joy to the people we serve through GiGi’s Playhouse.  It is our privilege as a community to be part of this mission today and our challenge will be to strengthen this legacy so that it endures and thrives in the future as well.”

Sue Torgrude – Founding Board Member

“There are many reasons to be proud. GiGi’s-Madison stays connected with families and participants, and works diligently to respond to their requests and needs. Also, the Playhouse is intentional about staying connected with our generous donors, other service agencies, and especially our volunteers.  GiGi’s-Madison has had the benefit of wonderful expertise and commitment from students and faculty at UW-Madison, the Waisman Center, Edgewood College, and Madison College, as well as, local residents, who also provide a variety of expertise and experience.  These abundant resources have allowed the Playhouse to help families and children grow and learn in an environment where they can feel safe, welcome, and appreciated.”

Alison Ryan – Founding Board Member & Patrick Ryan – Founding Board Vice President & Past President

“We were so proud when it opened because people like us, who get the Down Syndrome diagnosis, will drive by and know there is a place for them to get support and for their child to grow. Patrick, who was Grace’s biggest fan, passed away last year. I know that he is looking down on us and wants Grace and all of her friends with Down Syndrome to enjoy GiGi’s.”

Suzan Cook – Founding Board Member

“My brother, Jeff, had Down syndrome. GiGi’s is a place that he would have thoroughly enjoyed – and it would have helped him prosper. I wanted to be involved in remembrance of him.” There were challenges in opening the Playhouse. “For me – there was the fear of, “What if we build it and no one comes.” The other fear was financial. We could raise the money to build it, but would we be able to sustain it from a budget perspective? It was an honor to serve on the board. Keep doing what you’re doing!”

Bill Henry – Past Board President

“There is a lot to be proud about. Lots of successes for the Playhouse over the past 5 years – fundraising efforts, annual galas, launching the Amina Grace speech and language program, and expanding the physical space at the Playhouse,” to name a few. “What we have accomplished over the past 18 months is a remarkable, during the pandemic, pivoting to a virtual world. The teamwork and focus have been amazing!”

Julie Byrnes – Current Board President

“Being a speech and language pathologist, I immediately noticed the huge impact of GiGi’s Playhouse’s programs on fostering participants’ communication, independence, and personal achievement. After meeting the board and staff, and experiencing their passion, I was sold and wanted to be a part of this amazing organization. GiGi’s has renewed my faith in the goodness of people. It is truly inspiring to see volunteers donating hundreds of hours of their time and donors providing gifts to fulfill our mission! I am so happy to have joined the GiGi’s Playhouse family!”

Kim Arndt – Current Board Vice President

GiGi’s Playhouse is important. “People with any type of disability struggle to find resources and a place to truly belong.  Individuals with Down syndrome wear their disability on their face, so it can be even more difficult. GiGi’s provides a place of belonging and acceptance, where our loved ones can truly be the amazing people they are and promotes acceptance and awareness to the greater community.  Our society is made richer when we include and accept all types of people, including people with disabilities. We will be forever grateful that we have a GiGi’s Playhouse in the Madison area and for the resources GiGi’s provides to us!”


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  1. Bill Henry on May 17, 2021 at 2:27 pm

    Amazing work everyone! Such commitment is needed to launch and keep an organization like GiGi’s running year after year!

  2. Zane Torgrude on May 18, 2021 at 6:38 pm

    Cudos to all who have participated in making GiGi’s Playhouse a success. Let’s continue our mission to be Accepting, be Generous, and be Kind.

  3. Jennifer (Torgrude) Brownell on May 18, 2021 at 6:43 pm

    Bravo Gigi’s Madison!! You continue to hit it out of the park!! Thank you for your tireless efforts and advocacy on behalf of persons with Down syndrome!! 💙💛

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