This is part 4 in our 5 part series of traveling down memory lane with the panel of speakers from the recent gala where we celebrated 10 years here in the Quad Cities. The 4th speaker for the evening was Paige Kelly. Many of you may know her as Paige Taghon. Paige is the sibling of a GiGi’s Participant and was a child when the Playhouse began. Her parents Mark & Dawn are part of the team of founders that helped get the Playhouse started here in the Quad Cities. Paige is now a mom herself and the leader for our GiGiFIT program as she explains in her speech below.
Thank you all for allowing me to share my story. As mentioned, I am a sibling of a GiGi’s participant. My family and my sister Korryn have been here since the beginning.
When Korryn and I were young, our family joined a local Down syndrome support group. We were blessed to meet other families in the area that to this day, we still connect with on a regular basis. In 2011, our families learned of GiGi’s Playhouse, and with a giant leap of faith, decided to bring GiGi’s to the Quad Cities. They had a dream of creating a safe space for families and individuals with Down syndrome. As a sibling who had watched my sister grow up in a society that was constantly trying to make her fit in- whether it be in school, in sports, dance class, cheerleading… it was amazing to know that she would have a place to go where she could be 100% herself. A place that was designed specifically for her, and for her friends. A place where she could learn, play, and grow. And she’s done just that! Most recently, you can find Korryn dancing & doing karaoke with her Fantastic Friends on Friday nights, and getting her fitness on at GiGiFIT on Saturday mornings!
Having Korryn as my sister has shaped the course of my entire life. She is the center of our family (ok but seriously no one tell her I said that). My sister has taught me many life lessons, and unconditional love. Although I can say that our relationship was much like that of other sisters born only a few years apart- stealing each other’s clothes, fighting over the remote, annoying one another on purpose… I can also tell you that being a sibling in a special family like ours, has come with its own unique challenges. Being able to meet other families, other siblings who have these shared experiences, has been amazing and brought me a sense of comfort. As you can see, GiGi’s is really a place for everyone.
Growing up I attended many doctors appointments and therapy sessions with my sister, and these experiences are what inspired me to become a physical therapist. I wanted to be able to give back to families like that of my own.
In December of 2018 I graduated physical therapy school, and accepted a position here locally working with the pediatric population. In 2019, Pam approached me with a new program that GiGi’s was launching- a physical therapy based fitness program! GiGiFIT. She knew I wanted to be more involved with GiGi’s again once I moved back to the Quad Cities and thought this would be a perfect fit. And guess what? It was!
As I stated before, GiGiFIT is a physical therapy-based fitness program designed specifically for individuals with Down syndrome. This program was developed by Dr. Mann, a physical therapist in Colorado who specializes in treating teenagers and adults with Down syndrome. Children and adults with Down syndrome have more flexible ligaments & joints, as well as lower resting muscle tone, than you or I. This means that they have to work harder to stabilize their joints, even with basic movements- such as getting in or out of a chair, walking, or stair climbing. Our exercises target strengthening of key muscle groups and address balance and coordination, to promote improved joint health and mobility over the lifespan! In our younger populations we also address gross motor skill development. Our groups meet once a week, for 12 weeks, and at the end of each class we discuss healthy habits and provide education on basic nutrition. We have been blessed to have had amazing volunteers from St. Ambrose to assist in leading our classes as well!
In February of 2020, we launched GiGiFIT Teen! I don’t feel like I need to go into detail of the events to come (COVID), but we ended up offering GiGiFIT virtually over the summer and fall, to the toddler, kids, and adult age groups- with great success! We are currently (and finally) offering Fit in-person again to our teens and adults, and meet outdoors every Saturday morning! It is truly one of my favorite parts of the week!
I want to thank each and every one of you for your support our playhouse and all of our amazing families. I truly cannot believe we started this journey 10 years ago. I want to give a shout-out to my mom, who served on the GiGi’s Playhouse Quad Cities board in its early years, and to my dad, who is the race director for our Superhero 5k Run that is held annually along with our walk. GiGi’s Playhouse Quad Cities holds a special place in my heart, and I can’t wait to see how we grow in the coming years.