When Kendall was unexpectedly born with Down syndrome, saying we were lost would be an understatement. The hospital was of very little help to us during our time of questions, fear, and anxiety. Thank goodness we were introduced to another local GiGi’s mom (Julie Gustafson) by phone before we even left the hospital. We soon made our first trip to GiGi’s Playhouse Rockford. It was during this visit, that we learned of all the services and how they could help Kendall, her older sister Brooklynn, and us as parents. Our first regular program was Open Play. Here, the girls and I met with other families with similar aged children. We all snuggled the newborns, shared stories, asked questions to those ahead of us, and created life-long friendships at a place full of love and acceptance. In the past 4 years, we have taken part in many holiday celebrations such as Easter and Christmas. These gatherings are great places for families to connect, especially, the fathers! Super Saturdays is one of the girls’ favorite programs. This educational and therapeutic program is developed by practicing therapists and/or students in the field. Here Kendall is exposed to activities which focus on several facets of therapy as she learns and engages in social interactions with other kids. Brooklynn also finds joy in helping her sister in the learning process as well as playing and crafting with other siblings! As a bridge to communication, Kendall began learning sign language through the GiGi’s Playhouse LMNOP program, which focuses on teaching sign language, using music, and movement. I couldn’t wait to sign Kendall up for the Math and Literacy Tutoring programs through GiGi’s Playhouse once she turned 3. The trained tutors help Kendall create and strengthen her math and reading skills at her own pace. As Kendall ages, I look forward to enrolling her in programs such as Cheer Gems, Karate Kickers, Teen Tastics, and of course, GiGi U! I’m anxiously awaiting the upcoming parent education workshops which GiGi’s has recently introduced. Any additional education we can receive as parents only helps Kendall (and the entire family) in the long run. What’s most incredible about all these services is that they are local and FREE of charge to all families of individuals with Down syndrome. As we reflect on the last 4 years, we have seen the fear fade and the celebration build. Without GiGi’s Playhouse and the educational and therapeutic programs they offer, we may still feel as uncertain about Kendall’s future as we did that day in the hospital. However, now it’s much brighter knowing GiGi’s Playhouse will be there with us every step of the way!
Fall sessions are just around the corner. Visit the website or call the Playhouse at 815-654-7529 to explore what free programs are available to your family!