GiGi’s NYC is thrilled to shine a spotlight on one of our long-time and highly dedicated volunteers, Andy Kleiman. He is an integral part of the GiGi’s NYC community, having established a strong connection with many of our participants on a group and individual level. We hope you enjoy getting to know Andy as GiGi’s NYC has!
How and when did you first get involved with GiGi’s NYC?
I’ve been involved with GiGi’s NYC for 9 years. I got involved with them after I broke up with my girlfriend and needed to do something to keep myself distracted, especially on the weekend. Add to that, I had been working in special education for about a year and loved the Down syndrome population but there were no kids with Down syndrome at my current school. So, my love of the Ds population combined with my need for a weekend activity brought me to type “Down syndrome volunteer New York” into Google. It turned out that GiGi’s NYC was in my neighborhood, so I went there the next day and the rest is history!
What do you do as a volunteer?
I lead TeenTastic on Saturdays. I take a lot of pride in my program because there aren’t many programs out there for teenagers. It’s a very casual social group where they can come, hang out, make some friends, and have a good time. It’s come-as-you-are. This is a program where nothing will be asked of them. I don’t want them to DO anything. I just want them to BE. I think a lot of programs, especially for teenagers, are focused on working on a skill, but TeenTastic is all about process over product. I’ll have an idea of what I want to do that day, but if we never get to that because we’re having a really great conversation or navigating a social issue, then that’s great too, as long as people are making genuine connections, that’s all I want.
What does Down syndrome awareness and acceptance look like to you?
Inclusion, accessibility, representation, and visibility. Really this is what acceptance in general looks like. Making sure everyone has the same opportunities.
What is the best part about volunteering with GiGi’s NYC?
The relationships I’ve built. There are some kids who I’ve known my entire time at GiGi’s NYC and to see how much they’ve grown is incredible. Some I met as babies who are now in middle school, some I met in middle school who are now in college! I used to run a program for 0–3-year old’s and now some of those kids might be joining TeenTastic. It blows my mind.
How do you enjoy spending your free time?
I have a 15-month-old son, so I don’t have a whole lot of that. When I do, I enjoy reading comics (Big Marvel fan, currently reading Champions, though Spider-Man is my favorite, both Peter Parker and Miles Morales). I also enjoy a good comedy (currently watching Bob’s Burgers). I like doing things with my hands, building Legos, solving a Rubik’s Cube (my record is 3:20), and I’m currently learning how to knit.