Jennifer Marble, Board President
Jennifer is a very proud mother of a daughter with Down syndrome and wife to an amazing and supportive husband. All it took was one visit to GiGi’s Playhouse Hoffman Estates in her hometown of Chicago to realize the incredible potential and future a GiGi’s community could have on her daughter and the community at large. In 2014 she was thrilled to make GiGi’s Playhouse Phoenix a “home away from home” for her three-year-old daughter and their family. Jennifer is grateful to her husband and the amazing extended GiGi’s family for fueling her passion and drive to help change the world for her daughter and all individuals with Down syndrome.
For the past twenty years Jennifer has worked as a paralegal helping clients navigate the legal system and as an office manager with many hats for an established Phoenix law firm. When her workload became lighter upon the retirement of a firm attorney, she knew it was time to become more involved in GiGi’s Playhouse and use her experience in a whole new way. After serving for more than two years on the GiGi’s Playhouse Phoenix Board, she could not be more excited and honored to be elected as Board President in January 2020.
Jennifer Gage, Founder GiGi’s Playhouse Scottsdale/Phoenix
GiGi’s Playhouse has given me a platform to make the world a better place for my 20-year-old daughter Kaitlyn, who has Down syndrome. When she was born, there were little to no resources for parents to help navigate this diagnosis. GiGi’s offers a holistic approach to families; not just helping the person with Down syndrome, but their parents, siblings, extended family and so forth. GiGi’s Playhouse is making real-time impact on peoples lives right in our own community and I am excited to be on the front lines of a movement for acceptance, kindness and generosity.
Robin Lea-Amos, Executive Director
Robin is the inaugural Executive Director of GiGi’s Playhouse Phoenix. Robin is a nonprofit professional with more than 10 years of experience in grant administration, board governance and communication, management, public speaking, meeting and event planning, development, fundraising and community engagement. She is also the proud grandparent of Jackson, who was born in 2015 with the incredible gift of Down syndrome.
Robin most recently graduated from the ASU Lodestar School with an Executive Leadership Certificate and has been an active member of several nonprofit boards, including Special Olympics of Arizona, GiGi’s Playhouse Phoenix and Phoenix Children’s Hospital Foundation.
She and her husband spend as much time as possible with their children and grandchildren and have become advocates wherever they can to educate people on Down syndrome. In her spare time, Robin quilts, practices yoga and hikes on the many Valley trails that she has called home since moving to Arizona when she was six months old.
Nicole Abbott, Board Treasurer
Nicole is a CPA and Director of Dobridge & Company, P.C. where she has worked for nearly a decade. Nicole is passionate about her community and also serves as the treasurer of the Coronado Neighborhood Association. Nicole is married to Aaron and proud parent of Lincoln (4) and Jude (2).
Michelle Arena, Director of Graduate Internships
Michelle’s journey with Down syndrome has been lifelong as she is fortunate to have a younger brother, Christopher, born with Down syndrome. As an active volunteer at her brother’s school as a young adult, she then went on to be involved with the Special Olympics. In 2018, Michelle become a literacy and math tutor and she developed the “Tempting Tastes in Kaitlyn’s Kitchen” cooking class for teens. She is also a member of the GiGi Prep and GiGi U educational team that prepares graduates for the Studio Cafe internship program.
Michelle’s professional experience in corporate Human Resources compliments her role on the Board and her focus on the internship program as she reaches out to potential employers of GiGi’s Studio Cafe interns. Michelle believes there are no limits for GiGi’s participants and their families and is proud to be part of an organization that continuously educates the Phoenix community on kindness and acceptance by strong example.
Christel Baker, Director of Adult Learning
Christel is a wife and mother of four wonderful children that range in age from fifteen to twenty-five. Her 21-year-old son is a Type 1 diabetic who was diagnosed at the age of three. Diabetes never takes a day off and she has served as his advocate in a world that often doesn’t understand the severity of his disease. Her experience parenting a child with a life-threatening disease has intensified the connection to GiGi’s Playhouse families because each has had their own triumphs and struggles as they advocate for their child.
Christel has worked as a substitute teacher and para-educator for the Scottsdale Unified School District since 2008. She frequently assisted in a special needs classroom and found that she was not only good at teaching those students, but thoroughly enjoyed it as well. As the Director of Adult Learning for the first ever GiGi Prep class and the GIGI U program, she derives great pleasure in her work and always looks forward to meeting more families and hearing their stories. Each family’s journey is inspiring and she’s thankful to be a part of something so special at GiGi’s Playhouse Phoenix.
Laura Currier, Director of Medical Outreach and Development
A very active member of the community and resident of Arizona for 36 years, Laura joined GiGi’s Playhouse Phoenix three years ago as the Program Leader for GiGi’s Signature Language, Music ‘N Our Peeps (LMNOP) program. She is proud of the progressive growth in the Phoenix program since her start. Laura holds a BS in Speech Pathology/Audiology from Bradley University and a Master’s Degree in Speech Pathology with a Minor in Special Education from Arizona State University as has been a professional Speech Pathologist with the public school system for more than 16 years. Laura currently serve as the PTO Board President for Kiva and Mohave Schools and is a member of the Desert Foundation Auxiliary Board. As a fitness enthusiast, Laura coached Special Olympics for many years and was a Board Member and Board President for Xavier Girls Preparatory School. Laura is married and mother to three young adults.
Cindy Marie Judy, Director of Programs
After one visit to a GiGi’s Playhouse with a friend, Cindy Marie knew she wanted to join the GiGi’s family. She is a passionate educator whose career has spanned nearly 40 years, encompassing every grade from preschool through college. Her teaching emphasis has been special education and gifted education. Cindy Marie finds joy in seeing the positive outcomes of her work with children and parents as they experience the broad range of programs offered such as Speech and Language, Math, Arts and Music.
Marlene Schatzman, Director of Family Outreach
Family is everything to Marlene! She is the mother to four amazing young adults, has an unbelievably supportive husband, has a wonderful daughter- and son-in-law and is grandmother to one beautiful little girl. Best of all, she has one son, Brett, who was born with Down syndrome and when her family moved to Phoenix from Chicago, was fortunate to find GiGi’s Playhouse Phoenix. Marlene knew the minute they walked through the doors and were welcomed by everyone with open arms, that they were where Brett needed to be.
After seeing how much Brett receives from GiGi’s Playhouse, Marlene knew she wanted to give back. She has always felt support from family and friends and from that experience she knows all families experiencing a Down syndrome diagnosis need that same love and support. Marlene is a former teacher and uses her passion for family and learning to support the many friends that have now become their second family at GiGi’s Playhouse Phoenix.
Brett Schatzman, Honorary Board Member
Brett is a 28-year-old young man full of life! He has affectionately been dubbed the “Mayor” of GiGi’s Playhouse Phoenix” because of his genuine care for people and willingness to always greet everyone with kindness and a smile. In addition to serving as an Honorary Board member, he most recently co-chaired the GiGi’s Playhouse Phoenix 2020 Gala. Brett recently graduated from GiGi U and will soon be interning in the Phoenix Playhouse’s new Studio Cafe. Brett loves his family, sports, music, cooking/baking, working out, meeting new friends, and of course his “home away from home,” GiGi’s Playhouse Phoenix. Most days you will find Brett at GiGi’s, either volunteering or participating in every program offered for his age group.
Damon Wake, Director
Damon became acquainted with GiGi’s Playhouse Phoenix when his firm, Candelaria Design Associates, began supporting the build out of GiGi U and GiGi’s Café with their generous donation of time and talent. As Project Manager with the firm, he worked side-by-side with GiGi’s to design each space, obtain city and county permits, and coordinate the build out.
Damon grew up with an older brother who has Cerebral Palsy and has experienced the impact living with a special needs person can have on a family. This experience allowed him to understand how sensitive special needs families can be to design. He feels such joy from the immeasurable impact this work has been on him as well as how meaningful it is to others. He counts his involvement with GiGi’s as one of the most rewarding projects he has ever been lucky enough to support. Watching GiGi's Playhouse grow from Playhouse to University, and to see how the community has grown with it, is truly an inspiration to him. He is honored by the opportunity to serve the GiGi’s community and looks forward to remaining supportive in the years to come.
Elena Wandler, Board Secretary and Volunteer Coordinator
Elena is an Arizona native and with her husband Orion of 14 years, are parents to two amazing boys. Ethan is almost 14 years old and getting ready to start high school. Dylan is 4 years old and was born with Down syndrome. Dylan’s diagnosis came with many difficult medical issues and he was terribly fragile for a couple of years. Once he was healthy enough to venture beyond the home or the hospital, Elena, and Orion’s first stop was GiGi’s Playhouse. All it took was just one visit and they were hooked! Elena said their family has gotten so much from the Playhouse that she knew that she wanted to be more involved and find a way to give back. Elena joined the Board as Secretary and took over an exciting new role as volunteer coordinator. In her enthusiastic and engaging personality, she is excited to see what the future holds.
Cathy Judge, Co-Director of Operations
As a member of the initial Startup Committee for GiGi’s Playhouse Phoenix more than six years ago, Cathy joyfully accepted her role to co-manage operations of the site. Cathy’s extensive operations management experience was invaluable in the startup of the Phoenix Playhouse. As the grandmother of a young adult with Down syndrome and the mother of GiGi’s Playhouse Phoenix Founder, Jennifer Gage, Cathy is passionate about the success of the Playhouse and is grateful to serve the hundreds of families who refer to it as their “home away from home.”
Sheri Kelly, Co-Director of Operations
Sheri Kelly has been involved with GiGi's Playhouse Phoenix from its inception more than six years ago. Her background in accounting and as Manager of Operations for 14 years of federally-funded, TRIO Educational Program, in San Francisco makes her the perfect fit for the site coordination and operations support she provides to GiGi’s Playhouse Phoenix.