Empowering Lives: GiGi’s Playhouse Milwaukee and UW-Milwaukee Join Forces

In the heart of Milwaukee, an inspiring collaboration between GiGi’s Playhouse and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) is unfolding, marked by a commitment to support and empower individuals with Down syndrome and their families. Thanks to a long-standing connection with Ben Trager, who works for the university’s Center for Student Experience and under the guidance of Dr. Erin Sahlstein Parcell, a group of six graduate-level students are embarking on a transformative journey, delving into the experiences of parents and families connected to GiGi’s Playhouse Down Syndrome Achievement Center.

Course Dynamics and Interview Goals:

This unique partnership takes the form of a graduate-level course in qualitative interviewing at UWM, where one PhD student and five MA students immerse themselves in the intricacies of qualitative research. The primary focus of this collaboration is to conduct in-depth interviews, uncovering trends in parent and family experiences at GiGi’s Playhouse Milwaukee. These interviews serve a dual purpose, offering valuable insights to shape the organization’s future initiatives while providing students with practical experience in conducting qualitative interviews.

Community Partner and UWM Course Responsibilities:

Erin Anderson, Board President, and Sara Van Deurzen, Operations Director, represent GiGi’s Playhouse, playing a pivotal role in sharing key information about the organization and encouraging parent participation. The UWM course, led by Dr. Parcell, shoulders responsibilities such as identifying interview goals, constructing interview guides, conducting interviews, and analyzing data. The proposed timeline ensures a structured approach, culminating in presenting initial findings to GiGi’s in May 2024.

Why This Study Aids GiGi’s:

The survey conducted by the graduate students becomes a crucial undertaking for GiGi’s Milwaukee, given its limited personnel and time resources. Volunteers, a valuable resource for GiGi’s, contribute their insights through the survey, providing nuanced information about their experiences and challenges. This data, collected from personal interviews, not only shapes GiGi’s Playhouse’s immediate future in 2024 but lays the groundwork for their 10th-anniversary celebrations in 2025 and beyond. Additionally, the survey data will be instrumental in grant writing and reporting to grantors and supporters, amplifying GiGi’s impact on a broader scale.

Community Impact and Future Vision:

The collaborative effort extends beyond immediate concerns, reaching into the broader Milwaukee area. By considering various locations and seeking community input, GiGi’s Playhouse aims to expand collaborations and partnerships, spreading its impact. This inclusive approach aligns with GiGi’s commitment to fostering a supportive environment for families at every stage of their loved one’s journey with Down syndrome. The survey becomes an invaluable tool for GiGi’s Playhouse, enabling them to fine-tune their offerings and enhance their impact, championing a vision that embraces and uplifts individuals with Down syndrome throughout every stage of their lives.

In conclusion, the partnership between GiGi’s Playhouse Milwaukee and UW-Milwaukee exemplifies the power of collaborative efforts between academic institutions and community organizations. Through this initiative, the community not only gains a deeper understanding of the experiences of its members but also actively contributes to the growth and development of a more connected and empowered community. Together, they are rewriting narratives and championing a vision that embraces and uplifts individuals with Down syndrome throughout every stage of their lives.

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