Julie Cleveland, Operations & Volunteer Coordinator
Julie Cleveland, Operations & Volunteer Coordinator, lives in Richmond, TX with her son Brock and their 2 dogs, Zoe and Winston. Julie moved to Texas in 2009 when she bought 2 Nestle Toll House Cafes. She ran them along with her family for 5 years then had her son in 2012 and decided to sell them to stay home with him. Julie has also worked in the Education field for 20 years and has a real love for watching children learn and grow. She most recently has been in the Marketing field with i9sports where she took the Sugar Land Franchise to the number 1 in the county. Julie and her son love being part of helping GiGi's Playhouse Sugar Land and believes GiGi's Playhouse Sugar Land brings our community closer together through its outreach and free progressive programming created specifically for individuals with Down syndrome.
Alison Gratz, CCC/SLP
Alison lives in Sugar Land, TX with her husband, Andrew, and their three children, Seth, Anna, and Sara. Alison received her Bachelor of Science in Communication Sciences from the University of Texas at Austin in 1999, and her Master of Science in Communication Disorders from the University of Texas at Dallas in 2000. Alison has experience working in the public school system and the private clinic setting. She loves to spend time with her family and dogs, travel, scrapbook, watch baseball, and volunteer at organizations that are close to her heart. Alison believes that every individual deserves the opportunity to communicate with the world around them. She is excited to be a part of the GiGi’s Playhouse Sugar Land family and enjoys working with our families and lead our Amina Grace Speech & Language Program.
Chris Keenan, Program Coordinator
Chris Keenan, Program Coordinator, lives in Sugar Land, TX with her husband, Joe, and their two sons, Luke and James. She was born and raised in Illinois and graduated from the University of Illinois with a B.S. in Health and Safety Studies, Concentration in Health Education. She started her career presenting and evaluating preventive health programs – including weight loss, stress management and smoking cessation - in Chicago, IL. After a move with her husband to Dallas, she was an Education Coordinator at UT Southwestern Medical School, where she organized medical student preceptorships and managed data for program evaluation. Living in Sugar Land since 2005, while raising her two sons, she taught preschool and most recently served in an administrative assistant role at Reading Junior High School. Through her volunteer work, she has over a decade of experience coordinating and training volunteers, and event and activity planning. She loves reading historical fiction, cooking for her family and all forms of dance. Volunteering at GiGi’s opened her heart to our community and she is excited to be a part of it!
Jenifer Martin, Executive Director
Jenifer Martin, Executive Director, lives in Missouri City, TX, with her husband, Cody and 3 children, Katelyn, Caroline and John William. Jenifer grew up in Houston and has lived in the Sugar Land area for the past 21 years. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Education and a Master’s degree in Reading. She worked in both the private and public school systems as a teacher and reading specialist before deciding to stay home to raise her 3 children. Through her volunteer work, she has over 15 years experience fundraising and event planning. She loves reading, traveling, and spending time with family and friends. When GiGi’s Playhouse Sugar Land opened in 2015, it gave Jenifer hope for John William’s future, resources for his therapies and education, and a community of families to connect with. Having a son with Down Syndrome, Jenifer has been an advocate for acceptance and inclusion for John William and is excited to share her passion for raising positive awareness about Down Syndrome and connecting with families and the community to ensure that all individuals with Down Syndrome have a valuable place in society.
2023 Board of Directors
Mandy Cancino, President
Mandy Cancino, President, lives in Rosenberg, TX with her husband, Jason and two sons, Hunter (10) and Connor (8). They received Connor’s Down syndrome diagnosis at birth. Mandy first learned about GiGi’s Playhouse Sugar Land when she started attending the brainstorming meetings back in 2013 and she joined the Board in 2018 as Secretary and was voted in as President in 2022. Mandy is a HBU alumni, she graduated with a double major in Christianity and Child Development. Since then, Mandy has worked as an Elementary Director for a church, leasing agent in Commercial Real Estate, and Business Development for The Art Institute of Houston. Shortly after Connor was born, she became a stay at home mom. She believes that her skill sets of connecting others together will make a big impact on getting the word out about the playhouse! In her spare time, she helps the Playhouse get donations for raffle baskets and silent auction items, loves spending time with her family and researching about health, wellness, and Down syndrome. Mandy is excited to be part of the bigger picture of GiGi’s Playhouse Sugar Land!
Marissa Dickerson, Vice President
Marissa Dickerson, Vice President, lives in Fulshear, TX with her husband, Matt, and their two children, Michael and Evelyn. Marissa graduated from Texas A&M University with a Bachelor of Arts in Chemistry and has worked for Baker Hughes as an analytical chemist for 12 years. Marissa and Matt received Michael’s Down syndrome diagnosis prenatally. Looking for resources for her son, Marissa found GiGi’s Playhouse Sugar Land shortly after Michael's birth in 2015. There, Marissa and her family were welcomed with open arms and felt right at home. Marissa fell in love with the Playhouse not only for the free purposeful programs that helped her son, but also for the connections, kindness, inclusion, love, and amazing community that GiGi’s provides. As a Board member, Marissa wants to continue that purpose for many more families who need a sense of belonging and to promote Down syndrome awareness and acceptance throughout the community.
Sonia Storer, Treasurer
Sonia Storer, Treasurer, lives in Sugar Land, TX with her three kids: Cole, Isabella and Greyson. Sonia has worked in the banking industry for 26 years to include BBVA/PNC for the last 23 years and recently joined Santander Bank in the US in May. In addition to her work with BBVA Volunteer Program which focuses on financial literacy and various non-profit support, Sonia has been a part of GiGi’s Sugar Land since before we opened our doors in 2015. She and her family love being part of helping GiGi's Playhouse Sugar Land grow and are all active volunteers. Her son Cole was recognized as Junior volunteer of the year in 2017 with over 150 volunteer hours & Isabella was also recognized as Junior volunteer of the year in 2021 serving over 200 hours in 2019 & 2020. Sonia believes GiGi's Playhouse Sugar Land brings our community closer together through its outreach and free progressive programming created specifically for individuals with Down syndrome.
Briana White, Board Secretary
Briana White, Board Secretary, lives in Pearland, TX with her husband Brian and son Jackson (2). After graduating from Texas State University in 2008, Briana spent 7 years as a classroom teacher in the Midland/Odessa area. It was during this time Briana continued her education and received a Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction from UTPB. In 2015, Briana and Brian learned they were pregnant with their first son who would be born with Down syndrome and would require extensive heart surgery shortly after birth. Within days of learning their baby boy’s news, Briana’s husband was offered transfer within his company bringing them to the Houston area. This move was a God send for the White family. Very shortly after moving to Pearland Luke was born and spent 4 months in the NICU. It was at this time, Briana and Brian spent time researching to find available resources to aide Luke in meeting and exceeding his full potential as a child with special needs. Briana was introduced to GiGi’s Playhouse Sugar Land and immediately knew this was the place for Luke to learn and grow. A place where he would be accepted and loved. On September 20, 2021 (Luke’s Birthday) Luke went down for a nap at his school and woke up in the arms of Jesus. An unimaginable loss Brian and Briana never thought they would experience. However, even with the loss of their precious 6-year-old boy, Briana is actively continuing Luke’s legacy by advocating and loving on families with children of all abilities.
Paul Halpin lives in Pearland, TX with his wife, Jo. Both originally from the UK, they moved to the US in 1999 for a 2-year assignment in New Jersey and came to Houston in 2003 after the 2-year assignment was extended. Paul semi-retired at the end of 2018 from Accenture, where he was a Principal Director in their energy practice. Paul’s work and desire to explore different places and cultures have taken him to 114 countries, and there are a few still on his bucket list. Paul has several degrees, including an MBA in International Business and Strategy, and is a Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute. Paul has worked with several nonprofit organizations in the Houston area, and became interested in GiGi’s Playhouse when fellow board member, Mandy Cancino, and her husband, Jason, and their boys, Hunter and Connor, moved in next door in 2018.
Tara McWhirter joined our Board in December 2019 after volunteering with our adult programs for 2 years. Tara lives in Sugar Land with her husband, Desmond and their 2 daughters, Rose (14) and Macy (12). Tara grew up in Dallas and graduated from Texas A&M University. She is currently an Enterprise Channel Manager at Microsoft – Manufacturing and regularly brings her Microsoft team to the Playhouse to train our participants on Microsoft 365. Tara has a passion for family, friends, and travel, and enjoys making an impact through helping people use technology in their everyday life. Tara chose to be involved with GiGi’s Playhouse because of the direct impact she has seen in working with the adult participants and there is no other organization like GiGi’s Playhouse Sugar Land that provides an inclusive and welcoming place for the Down syndrome community and their families.
Shawn Tracey lives in Pearland, Texas with his wife, Tracy, and their two daughters Sailor and Sloan. Shawn and Tracy were Ohio natives and expats in the oil & gas industry before receiving Sailor’s Down syndrome diagnosis and deciding to move to Texas for the educational and medical resources for Sailor. Shawn is a licensed attorney with approximately 20 years of experience including more than 14 years with Marathon Oil Company in various business and legal leadership roles. Shawn has significant executive and board level experience and currently sits on the Board of Directors for Marathon’s international subsidiary. Shawn is inspired every day by his daughter, Sailor, and is passionate about sharing her journey and dispelling misconceptions about those with Down syndrome.
Matt lives in Sugar Land, TX with his wife Elin and three kids: Dylan, Holly and Lyle. Elin and Matt received Holly’s prenatal Down syndrome diagnosis in 2017 and were referred to GiGi’s Playhouse Sugar Land by a genetic counselor. Later that day, they drove to GiGi’s Playhouse to find out more about their daughter’s new diagnosis and what GiGi’s would be able to offer Holly. The Cartier family has been involved with the GiGi’s community ever since. In 2009, Matt graduated from Texas Tech’s Rawls College of Business with a Bachelor of Business Management. Since graduating Matt has been in the waste and recycling industry and currently holds the role as Regional Vice President for GFL Environmental. In his spare time Matt loves to golf, watch football (cheering on the Texans and Texas Tech Red Raiders) and travel with his family.
I live in Missouri City with my husband and two kids, Cristiano 9 yrs. old and Mia is 1 yr. old. I graduated from HBU in 2007. Shortly after graduating I started working in sales for an events ticket company up until Mia's birth. I was told about GiGis Playhouse at the Hospital when Mia was born but didn't make my way there until 9 Months later and we haven't left! Mia's my social butterfly and the reason I want to be a part of everything Down Syndrome. I enjoy running and spending time with family and friends. I love dancing and embracing my Latin roots.
Alice is a native Houstonian who currently resides in the Meyerland/Westbury area with her daughter Hailey (16yrs). She received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and International Business from the University of Houston and went on to receive my Master’s in Business Administration from Texas Woman’s University. She is Project Manager at Texas Children’s Hospital where she has worked for the past 13 years. She received Hailey’s Translocation Down Syndrome diagnosis at birth. Since then she has been on a mission to seek the best care and environment for Hailey, which brought her to GiGi’s Playhouse. Hailey looks forward to participating in the GiGiFIT, Teen-tastic, and tutoring programs offered at the Playhouse where she meets new friends and gains strength and knowledge. Alice enjoys learning, conversing, and building relationships with other parents that a part of GiGi's community. In their spare time, you can find Hailey and Alice jamming at local concerts, catching the latest movie for our “movie dates”, or practicing for an audition to be Justin Bieber's backup dancers. Alice is extremely grateful to be a part of this year's Board and looks forward to continuing the amazing work and opportunities that Gigi’s Playhouse provides for our Down Syndrome community.