Meet our Youth Board: Caroline Costigan

GiGi’s NYC is thrilled to have our Youth Board host Dancing For Down Syndrome again this year! Hear from Caroline, member of our Youth Board, about her inspiration to support the GiGi’s NYC community:

How and when did you first get involved with GiGi’s NYC? Before volunteering at GiGi’s NYC, I volunteered as the Sing-A-Long Leader at a nursing home. Sharing my love of music with the elderly residents forged unexpected friendships across generations, and it warmed my heart to see their eyes light up when I played their favorite songs on the piano. Unfortunately, with the pandemic, the nursing home closed. While in lockdown, the other volunteers informed me that many residents had contracted the virus and passed away. I was devastated and worried they had felt scared and alone because no one was allowed to visit them, not even family.

When summer arrived, we were still in lockdown, and I continued to process the loss of my friends at the nursing home. I began volunteering with GiGi’s NYC, and in many ways, it saved me. I was able to channel all of my grief into interacting with the people in the program, and I was thankful to be a volunteer again. The children I volunteered with were so energetic and joyful that I was no longer focused on the pandemic but on making each child feel special. Hearing their compliments for each other and their conversations made me smile every day. I loved painting with them and doing their favorite Avenger-themed workout. They reignited my love for volunteering, and I saw that I could make a difference in others’ lives.

Why did you decide to join the Youth Board? Since freshman year, I have volunteered as a tutor for GiGi’s NYC LitLab program, which helps young adults with Down syndrome become more independent. I teach Troy, Mercy, Anthony, Laura, and several other students how to create professional PowerPoint presentations ranging from the history of Columbia to Troy’s plans for a National Selena Gomez Day. Their infectious enthusiasm helps them overcome their speech challenges and present with confidence.

Most of us tend to diminish our accomplishments, including myself; however, some people with Down syndrome do not because nothing is a given for them. Troy and Mercy are determined to succeed, and they persevere, refusing to allow their diagnosis to limit them. Their positive attitudes inspired me to search for additional ways to support them.

While GiGi’s NYC educational programs provide valuable assistance to these young adults with Down syndrome and are at no cost to participants and families, the organization requires financial support to continue its specialized offerings. There, I saw an opportunity to help the GiGi’s NYC community even more by helping to establish the Youth Board and organize the Dancing For Down syndrome Inaugural fundraiser.

What does GiGi’s NYC mean to you? To me, GiGi’s NYC is a safe space where people with differing abilities are able to share their talents, learn together, and befriend one another. GiGi’s NYC continuously welcomes new participants, families, and volunteers with open arms, thrilled to spread Down syndrome awareness and acceptance with a broader community. 

I am forever grateful to GiGi’s NYC for welcoming me into the community during the pandemic as I was grieving the loss of my elderly friends from the nursing home. GiGi’s NYC provides everyone in the community with an invaluable sense of purpose and belonging.

What do you do on the Youth Board? Tapping into my knowledge as Co-CEO of the Finance Club at school, I help promote GiGi’s NYC by designing fliers, leading Youth Board meetings, recruiting new volunteers, and creating a social media campaign and website where participants can manage their individual fundraising pages, helping them advocate for themselves and the Down syndrome community. 

This past June, I helped organize the Youth Board’s Inaugural Dance-a-Thon, which raised over $21,000. The participants with Down syndrome thoroughly enjoyed showing off their dance moves. I hold this proud moment close to my heart as a reminder of how hard we worked to preserve these programs for those I have the privilege to serve. As a member of GiGi’s NYC Youth Board, I help bring more attention to the value and talent of the Down syndrome community, which should be appreciated and included in our world.

What is your favorite thing about the GiGi’s NYC community? The participants at GiGi’s NYC are the embodiment of pure joy and genuine kindness. They continuously support and encourage one another in everything they do. I feel incredibly blessed to have the opportunity to volunteer with the GiGi’s NYC community.

What does Down syndrome awareness and acceptance look like to you? Down syndrome awareness and acceptance are best shown through the GiGi’s NYC community. At GiGi’s NYC, those with Down syndrome are not only accepted, they are appreciated. Many people in the world are ignorant about Down syndrome and therefore think it is a weakness, when in reality, people with Down syndrome are some of the strongest, most wonderful people I know. 

I firmly believe that Down syndrome awareness and acceptance will come through the work of communities like GiGi’s NYC. People with Down syndrome will have greater representation in the media and the workforce, and the rest of the world will soon become more aware and accepting of those who are different from them. Volunteering at GiGi’s NYC has shown me that we are all different, and that makes us unique. We as a society must learn to accept and appreciate each other for these differences.

What from our community are you most proud of? I am most proud of the determination that exists in every one of GiGi’s NYC participants. It is inspiring to volunteer with people who dream big and are unafraid to make that dream a reality. Whether that is becoming Selena Gomez’s DJ, a composer, or a dancer, each participant has a goal, and the volunteers at GiGi’s NYC are committed to equipping participants with the necessary tools to make their dreams come true. 

I am already so proud of the GiGi’s NYC community, and I can not wait to see the impact these participants will have on the larger world community as they continue to inspire those around them.

How do you enjoy spending your free time? My dream is to be an architect, and I enjoy spending my free time drawing beautiful structures around the city and designing new buildings. I then like to watercolor my drawings to bring them to life, and I always strive to continue learning about architecture and exploring new places.

What do you want the GiGi’s NYC community to know? The children and young adults with Down syndrome at GiGi’s NYC inspired me to never give up hope and helped me piece myself back together after losing my elderly friends. When I become an architect, I plan on using my education to continue expanding the GiGi’s community by building more facilities so people with Down syndrome who live in rural areas are afforded equal access to its unique programs and playhouses.

What have you learned as a volunteer? How have you been impacted by being a volunteer? The gift I have received as a volunteer is almost too great to put into words. Those I serve have had such a positive effect on my life that I am forever changed and blessed to have known them. 

I believe we must advocate for groups who can not always advocate for themselves, and I plan to continue volunteering with the Down syndrome community throughout my life. They’ve taught me to be proud of all I’ve accomplished and never to lose that initial euphoria and immense sense of pride that comes from reaching a milestone. Those with Down syndrome are truly a force for good in this world, and given the chance to shine, they will never fail to surprise and inspire us all.

GiGi’s NYC is grateful to have a growing number of high school students advocate for the Down syndrome community in such an impactful and thoughtful way. We are thankful to Caroline, and the rest of the Youth Board, for spearheading this event for the second year in a row. To learn more about Dancing For Down Syndrome, please visit our website. We hope to see you there on June 10th!

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