Our Team


Denise Montero, Programs Coordinator

Denise was born and raised in Mexico and has lived in California for over 15 years. She has a BA in Marketing and has done vast volunteer work at the Make-A-Wish-Foundation San Diego and Casa de Las Madres in San Francisco. She enjoys spending time with her son and going out for walks with their dog, hiking, and swimming – pretty much any outdoor activity! She has worked part-time for GiGi’s Playhouse San Diego since 2019, starting as Office Administrator before shifting focus to coordinate the details or the expanding programs offered at GiGi’s Playhouse as Programs Coordinator. She is fluent in both English and Spanish. We are lucky to have her as part of the team!

Marissa Chavez, Site Manager

Marissa (Rissa) is a rehabilitation counselor with a specialization in cognitive disabilities. She holds a rehabilitation counseling certification, utilizing her skills in the field of different abilities encouraging folks to explore their gifts in a wide variety of vocational settings, personal development and socialization skills. She is a long-term member/facilitator of the San Diego People First Community and the current Co-Chair of the San Diego In Home Support Services Advisory Committee. Rissa is excited and ready to explore her new role at GiGi’s Playhouse Down Syndrome Achievement San Diego.


Kelci Wilner, President

Kelci is a financial advisor and is passionate about helping people. Although not a parent yet, she has been an active volunteer in the special needs community with school-aged children for several years. Kelci started volunteering at GiGi’s Playhouse as a Literacy Tutor and program assistant before joining the Board and serving as Fundraising Chair for over two years. She eagerly took on the President position in July 2022. She is very excited to volunteer at GiGi’s Playhouse San Diego and is looking forward to growing the Playhouse and community!

Jennifer Candelario, Vice President

Jennifer worked as an athletic trainer and educator for over 15 years, and currently teaches at a high school in San Diego. She is very excited to be a leader at GiGi's Playhouse San Diego. As a parent of a son with Down syndrome and taking part in many of the programs offered, she joined the team in 2021 as Board Secretary. She is excited to build relationships with families and to make a difference in the Down syndrome community. She has made many friends through GiGi's and supports the movement for global acceptance and inclusion for individuals with Down syndrome.

Karen Falk, Board Treasurer

Karen has worked as a civil engineer in both the public and private sector for over 20 years. Following the birth of her third child who has Down syndrome, she was looking for ways to support the Down syndrome community in San Diego. She joined the GiGi’s Playhouse startup team and eagerly led the team through the steps to open a Playhouse in San Diego before serving as President for several years. She focuses on fundraising now and is very excited about all of the wonderful programs and opportunities that GiGi’s Playhouse San Diego will offer her daughter and all individuals with Down syndrome in San Diego County.

Laura Bellizzi, Fundraising Chair

Laura, a native New Yorker, has a BA in Social Studies Education and a Master's in Special Education. For the past 12 years, she worked as a special education teacher at The Windward School, a school for students with language-based disabilities. Outside the classroom, she served as the Coordinator of Social Studies Education, playing an integral role in supporting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives as well as teacher training and development programs at the school. Laura also served as the Student Council Advisor and Faculty Co-Chair for the Windward Annual Fund, roles which allowed her to organize and engage community members in various fundraising and service initiatives. She currently works as a professional development course facilitator, providing training for both public and private school teachers across the nation. Laura began volunteering for GiGi's in the fall of 2023 and looks forward to supporting the organization's mission and expansion initiatives through her new role on the Board.

Volunteer Committee Chair – AVAILABLE

Ensure volunteers are trained and available for each program, with assistance from Site Coordinator. Ocassionally attend programs to ensure they are representing the playhouse well. Contact groups of volunteers as needed for events and programs.

Marketing Committee Chair – AVAILABLE

Manage all media interactions, PR, etc. including e-newsletters, Facebook posts, mail newsletters, blog posts, etc. and market all programs and events as needed by the other committees.

Events Committee Chair – AVAILABLE

Plan and oversee all events in the playhouse, including scheduling, food, activities.

Interested in one of our open Board Positions? Reach out to any Board Member or email sandiego@gigisplayhouse.org with questions.

Secretary - AVAILABLE

Outreach Committee Chair - AVAILABLE