Frank Sawyer, Board President 

We are grateful for this opportunity for us to come together as a community and to support each other during this trying time. 

COVID-19 has had a devastating impact in our world, our country and city.  It has also had a devastating impact on our finances since our major fundraising events for 2020 have been postponed and may be in jeopardy of cancellation.  With that, we had to make a difficult decision to our staffing structure, as you all have already learned through our communication last week. 

We are here to discuss where we are today and where we are going — and to answer any questions you may have. 

I would like to start by saying a few words about my relationship with GiGi’s Playhouse NYC.  I first became acquainted with this incredible organization in 2012 when my late partner’s brother, Peter Loftis, came to live with us here in New York.  Anyone who has met Peter knows that he is a beautiful soul, and it was important for us to find a supportive and enriching environment where he could thrive.  GiGi’s Playhouse NYC has been a godsend.  

My time with this community has enriched my life. It is interwoven into the fabric of my life and I am here for us all.  I volunteer for Peter, but also because of Sable, because of Fatima, because of Troy and Malik, and for all the clients and families we serve.  We are doing amazing things and I am so proud to be a part of this inspiring community. 

I only have the best interest of the Playhouse in mind, and I want to make us the best we can be for our loved ones, community, families, and volunteers.  Nevertheless, a handful of complaints about my communication style have been raised.  I have heard the complaints and I regret any behavior on my part that may have been offensive to some.  I would like you to know the steps I have taken in response. We met as a team to discuss. Then we met with the HR Consultant used by GiGi’s Playhouse, Inc. to gain their insights regarding providing feedback more effectivelyI have learned how to better communicate feedback in a positive manner. My team has noticed an improvement, including those who complained. I appreciate their candor as we collaborate, with all of us learning and improving to best serve our community. 

I will also continue to be open to any feedback and will respond accordingly. Moving forward, if you observe behavior, conducted by anyone, that you perceive as inappropriate, please email nyc@gigisplayhouse.org and let us know so the behavior can be addressed in the moment. Your observation can be shared anonymously. We have to support all those in our community being treated with respect. 


Originally, Sharon Hart, our Board Secretary, and I became involved supporting staff operations by meeting with our Playhouse staff weekly to provide leadership as our Executive Director had left the Playhouse. Staff guidance was needed. At the onset of this strategy, our weekly meetings were always intended to be short term. 

Now I am able to step away from the Playhouse daily operations and leave them to Katie Momenee, our Operations Coordinator, Liza, a valued board member with a strong operations background and Jane, the VP of our Board, where the responsibility ultimately lies within the Board structure.  I will continue to serve as President to provide strategic direction and fundraise for the Playhouse. 

I would like to take this opportunity to applaud several accomplishments under our Board of Directors, along with the tireless support of our volunteers: 

  • Two annual Fashion Shows presented by Bloomingdales 59th Street.  This past Fashion Show had 30 models and 300+ guests.  What an amazing opportunity for our participants! 
  • The formation of our “we have a Voice” Community Chorus led by Laurie Gamache who held the leading role in the original production of Chorus Line on Broadway. Our performances at the NDSS Gala, Positive Exposure, and the GiGi’s NYC Gala were breathtaking with more to come. The sky is the limit. 
  • The creation of our Summer Programs, first for kids and teens, Summer Clubhouse and Summer Adventures, now for adults, Summer Horizons, as well.  Our most popular programs and events we are going to have to expand the semester! 

would like to introduce the board members whose strategic vision and commitment bring these and other programs to life. 

Jane Providenti, Mary Haverhals, Saudia Ally, Ryan Brown, Carol Falcinelli, Margret Ditolla, Ruth Erickson, Liza Galler, Gary McCann and Yamira Siu. 

And, last  but, of course, not least, our peerless Operations Coordinator, Katie Momenee, who has been with the Playhouse for almost two years and has had a huge impact in our community and with our families.  The many things she does keeps the Playhouse running, the role is indispensable and Katie makes it even more so by all she does. 

Thank you for taking the time to submit questions through the survey,  

it helped to shape this town hall.  



Mary HaverhalsBoard Treasurer 

COVID19 has severely affected our financials and fundraising capabilities for 2020.  We do not know how it will impact 2021.  Fundraising revenue funds our payroll.  Our i have a Voice”Gala, held in the Spring, is responsible for over half of our annual revenue.  We have already paid in full for the venue for the Gala.  With the Gala postponed due to COVID-19 and an unknown date of when it can be held, over half of our annual revenue is at risk.  It is nearly impossible to create another fundraising event of that magnitude for our Playhouse, even virtually, and we have worked on finding a new date when social distancing restrictions are lifted.   

Our fundraiser, Dancing for Down Syndrome (D4DS), is also at risk this year.  This is our 2nd largest, more communitybased, fundraiser. We understand COVID-19 has put immeasurable financial and other strains on our families and extended friends, and we need to take that into account with our fundraising expectations.  In addition, grants we normally receive for our summer programs are in jeopardy as they may be all virtual.   

In order to keep GiGi’s NYC open through the pandemic, we have had to reduce expenses. Bottom line. These are not easy decisions and the Board reviewed many alternatives.   

We knew with postponing our Gala, we couldn’t recoup the funds we expected to earn from the event through aonline Gala because our event is more than a fundraiser.  Our Gala is an opportunity for our guests to meet our members and experience the joy that is our community, and see first-hand the accomplishments that are made by all those that are part of the Playhouse. 

We have applied for the Payroll Protection Program (PPP). We are not assured that we will receive it, and we are also not assured that it will be forgiven. if we receive this loan, it still would not be able to cover financial losses that we have accrued to keep our doors open through to Labor Day. 

We are, have been, and are continuing our fundraising efforts through grant applications during this difficult time.  We were realistic that it would in no way be enough to keep our doors open for our community and made the difficult decision to reorganize our staff.  While sensitive to and closely monitoring the COVID-19 crisis and its impact on every aspect of our lives, the Board remains actively involved in pursuing funding and support for GiGi’s NYC, so we can emerge from this crisis stronger than ever. Thank you so much for the fundraising ideas you submitted with your survey responses. 

During this unprecedented pandemic time, we realize, as it should be, that the funds being raised are primarily supporting our essential workers, the medical community, first responders, the local community grocery stores and restaurants and supporting our small businesses.  As a community, we understand this as we hear the unfortunate sounds of sirens many times during the day, and the inspiring 7 pm clapping, honoring our essential workers and first responders across NYC 



Jane ProvidentiBoard Vice President 

We have had to make changes to our staffing structure. Wwere made aware we would receive  assistance from GiGi’s Playhouse, Inc. to backfill certain tasks, and that we could rely on our incredible breadth of volunteers.  This strategy would assist us through these perilous times.  We put this up for The Board and came together to vote, and as difficult as this decision was, it was understood by Board members who voted to make changes to our staffing structure, and for the time being eliminate the full time Programs Director position.  Christine Cuppett is no longer with us. If you have a message for her we will pass it along. Please send any message to her care of: nyc@gigisplayhouse.org 

This difficult decision was made in the best interest of our community and the future of our Playhouse, to keep our doors open and ensure we have a place for us all to gather again when the COVID-19 lockdown is over. 

Please know, we were so torn by this necessary decision and instead of fully eliminating this position, a parttime position was offered to Christine so we could weather through this crisis, albeit, with an undetermined future. We appreciate her value and the relationships she has developed with our families and volunteers, like you, and our hope was that she would continue her good work at the Playhouse. Unfortunately, she did not accept.   

We have wanted to have a conversation with this entire community since day one of the pandemic.  As you all can understand, our very first task was to get our programs online for our community. GiGi’s Playhouse, Inc. supported us immensely as they had an online offering for the community immediately.   

We are amazed and so grateful at what our volunteers have done here in Harlem, virtually, during this pandemic to support our kids who are stuck at home with limited outside access.  Through the response and the amazing generosity of our volunteers and community, we are able to continue the programming offered.  For example, when Liza called Andy Kleinman, our Teentastic group lead volunteer, he jumped at the opportunity to offer Teentastic online 3 days a week.  We didn’t skip a beat and now our virtual programs also include Yoga, GiGiFit, Zumba, Busy Bodies, and Leaps and Bounds with more to comeThis demonstrates the power of our volunteers.  

Some programs, unfortunately, we have yet to make virtual, but we are looking to build those, if possible, in the upcoming weeks.  We may need to be a bit creative, but we look forward to receiving ideas from the community on how we can offer programs like Gratitude Art, Bowling Buds, Teentastic Night Out and others  in an online capacity.  We will engage with you and keep you informed of program status and our progress.  Liza is currently working on having 10 new volunteers trained, who are eager to meet with participants on line. How amazing is that? 

At the heart of it all, this meeting is about you, our community.  We are so blessed that so many of us have been here since we opened our doors in 2012. Our founders, Tracy and Debbie, are still so actively involved and continue to drive us forward.  Liza was our first program lead and is, now, instrumental in the Board and operations. I continue to work for us, as a community, even if behind the scenes to support our Playhouse.  recently led a trip of GiGi’s NYC families to InclusiveU at Syracuse University to tour a post-secondary opportunity for our participants and spent time visiting colleagues at GiGi’s Syracuse during the trip.  There are countless others contributing to who we are and the community we have become.  We are only 7 participants shy of reaching our 1,000 participant goal. We are and should be so proud. 

There are also people you will never meet, you will never see at the Playhouse, you may not even recognize their names, while they support who we are and contribute to the ongoing success and the mission of the Playhouse. They are vital to our near and long term future. 



Liza Galler, Board Member Operations 

Thank you all so much for your time and contributions.  We appreciate the opportunity to assist our community in better understanding our decisions.  We are carefully considering our community’s needs in how we move forward from here.  We will look to professionals for guidance on what safety looks like when we open our Playhouse doors again, we will look to our families for what our programs will look like when we return, and we will look to our volunteers for what they can give upon our return.  Our virtual programs will continue until we can all meet again.  We have witnessed the impact of this virtual social connection with parents, participants, and volunteers.  We do not underestimate the power of our community and eagerly anticipate our return to 106 W 117th Street and beyond. 

Thank you again for your time. You may contact us, anonymously or not, at nyc@gigisplayhouse.org 


  1. jane rainone on April 23, 2020 at 1:40 pm

    looking forward to coming back
    jne rainone
    new York cares volunteer

    • kmomenee on April 23, 2020 at 1:56 pm

      Thank you Jane,

      We look forward to being back in the playhouse when we are able with you as well

      Thank you,

  2. Elizabeth Scheel on April 23, 2020 at 2:38 pm

    Thank you for this update and for all the wonderful online programming you have been able to implement during this challenging time. It truly takes a village and Safia and I are proud to be part of the GiGis family. We look forward to seeing everyone when it’s safe to socialize again. Much love, Safia and Elizabeth

  3. Lisa Pagan-Vega on April 24, 2020 at 10:00 am

    Thank you for this detail update and trying your best to keep the program going. GigiPlayhouseNYC was a God send program for my Bianca. She blossomed during the Summer Horizon Summer Program 2019. All the staff have been great. We cannot wait to see you all again. Please stay safe.

    Lots of love from Bianca and the Vega family!

  4. Aimee on April 25, 2020 at 3:06 pm

    Thank you all for your words! Sorry to have lost Christine. This season has brought some difficult changes. We look forward to being at Gigi’s again, but until then, we are grateful for the community and all of you! Stay well, xo

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