My First Visit to GiGi’s Playhouse Raleigh
By Cornelia Smith, Ph.D.
I have noticed GiGi’s Playhouse in Raleigh since it opened last year and wondered about its purpose. The posters on the outside windows show children with Down syndrome so I gathered that this was a main focus of the center. I actually wondered if I could be of help in some way. Recently, I learned of volunteer opportunities through VolunteerMatch.org. I saw that GiGi’s Playhouse in Raleigh was in need of volunteers and I reached out. Well today, I was fortunate enough to visit the facility and meet with three dedicated people, Michelle Pfeiffer (Board Member and Volunteer for Outreach Programs), Emily Faulkner (Operations Coordinator), and Caroline Tate (Site Coordinator). A program was not occurring at the time of my visit however, because of the bright lights, brightly colored walls, KIDZ BOP music playing, and the presence of an adorable little puppy, the atmosphere was far from idle. The first thing that I noticed was the warm personalities of the ladies. The ladies were very accommodating and genuinely happy to meet me and share the wonderful purposes of the center with me. I learned that there is so much that happens at the center besides “play”.
Michelle took me on a tour of the facility. Two things that caught my eye were a stage and a kitchen area. Michelle explained that the stage was used to help the children and teenagers. While an individual is learning and developing, that person may feel compelled to step on the stage and share a story or a song in the presence of others. This is recognized as a “Best of All” moment by the center. In my opinion, this particular strategy is brilliant and reveals the well thought out design of the program. The stage is used also for fitness classes held at the center such as yoga or Zumba®. Michelle pointed out that the yoga classes are enjoyed immensely by both the children and the adults. Michelle informed me about the use of the kitchen. A program for the adults focused on the preparation of healthy meals and snacks. As part of the program, the adults selected their own vegetables at the State Farmer’s Market and prepared them with the help of volunteers at the center. While skeptical at first, the adults ended up enjoying the meals and thought the dishes were very tasty. As I learn more about the program, I must say that the methods of GiGi’s Playhouse are compelling! I took notes on this so that I can apply this strategy with my son at home who does not like vegetables!
My tour continued to the education section of the center. I saw a room dedicated to one on one tutoring for the children. We then entered a classroom setting for adult programs. The adult component is a huge part of the center. Adults with Down syndrome can come to the center and enter GiGi’s Prep program designed to help them transition into employment. Michelle explained that adults with Down syndrome who are otherwise spending time at home can utilize the center for development, enrichment, and job placement. Speech therapy classes are also conducted at the center and are led by students enrolled at North Carolina Central University (located in Durham, NC). GiGi U will begin in the spring and this sounds like an exciting program as well.
Overall, I had a productive visit with GiGi’s Playhouse of Raleigh. I am always open to learning about something new. Today I learned that GiGi’s Playhouse is an organization made of people with open hearts and open minds whose sole purpose is to help individuals feel positive and valued. GiGi’s is a place where people can gather that share the same or similar experiences. Today I learned that the participants can utilize the programs offered for free. This is simply amazing! I know that the donors and volunteers help to make this possible. I am grateful for my first visit to GiGi’s Playhouse in Raleigh and I am looking forward to serving as a volunteer for this wonderful organization.