Growth, Connections and Awards – GiGi’s Leadership Conference 2021

Every November, The GiGi’s Playhouse National Office dedicates 5 days of training and development for the network of playhouses and startups at the Leadership Conference. GiGi’s Playhouse was once again thrilled to join (safely) with close to 300 believers from around the country! GiGi’s Playhouse Syracuse was represented by the Board of Managers President, Vice President, and our new Operation Coordinator!  They are joining us today to share their perspective on their first National Leadership Conference.


Valerie Picciano, Syracuse Operations Coordinator:

The first thing that inspired me on the first day of training was the amount of passion that everyone had and I saw that throughout the entire conference.  It was also inspiring to meet everyone from all over the country and to hear their personal stories about how they got involved with GiGi’s.

I was amazed that when I went to the Playhouse on Wednesday, that everyone there knew that it was only my third day.  Everyone from the Playhouse’s across the country and National staff were so friendly and welcoming.  Meeting our Chief Belief Officer, Nancy Gianni, and THE GiGi was off the charts, wow talk about passion and inspiration!

I really bonded with the women from Raliegh, New York City, Twin Cities, Fort Meyers, and Francisco from Miami.  They gave me a great understanding of the structure of their playhouses and the relationship with the board. I especially enjoyed the sessions that had a panel of people from different playhouses that spoke to the training topic and have open discussions. I was made to feel very comfortable and welcomed even though it was only my first week!

GiGi's Playhouse Leadership


Mary Jo Klein, Board of Managers President:

How to sum up my first ever GiGi’s Playhouse National Conference?  Simply Amazing!  From the first step into the conference center until I left I felt welcomed and energized!

The sessions pertaining to anything fundraising gave so much information.  Just listening to the ways different playhouses run their events gave me idea after idea.  GiGi’s Playhouse Wausa did the Glow Run, a fun idea!  From thinking they had to compete with a dog and cat 5k to turning it into a huge event was such a great story.  And Twin Cities, how they raise so much at their Gala.  The passion that the board members and volunteers have is amazing.  Just sharing day to day responsibilites was helpful.  I know the friends I made will be friends for life.  We plan on staying in touch and helping make all of our playhouses a success!

leadership award


Jason Ryan, Board of Managers Vice President:

This was my first conference and I didn’t know what to expect going into it. I had never been to Chicago and was excited to learn and see the OG playhouse. Thursday night we arrived for the first event which was much more intimate and allowed us to meet and connect with Insperity, Nancy Gianni, and the Inc team.

Friday morning came and I was up early and ready to go! After checking into the conference and heading down the hall to the large room it was amazing to walk in and see a few hundred people all gathered for one purpose. As the day went on and people got more comfortable the connections started! Talking to the other playhouses was a highlight of my trip. The knowledge, commitment, and drive that you get to experience are like no other. Remembering that the majority of these people are sole staff or volunteers and the time they are putting blew me away. Then Friday night came and the chance to see where it all started! You often hear of the Hoffman Estate playhouse but until you pull up and see it there an no words to describe it. Walking in those doors a feeling takes over of pure joy. We walked around looking at every inch, taking in ideas, and hearing stories! Seeing the Hugs and Mugs Cafe is another level. Knowing that this is all built to allow our adult participants to learn so much more beyond tutoring, music, fitness is incredible. I definitely overspent in that shop! The night ended with meeting GiGi herself and making friends with the teams from GiGi’s NYC and the Twin Cities!

Saturday came and I was ready… or so I thought. I am not an emotional person but hearing Amanda Booth and Kelle Hampton talk about motherhood and learning their children had Down syndrome and not knowing what to do was emotional. My aunt has Down syndrome and has been with my parents since I was 5, so I have never known anything different. However to hear these moms talk about the struggles and how they made a commitment to never let anyone see their kids as different was a new level! It makes you realize how much more we need to do to help inform new parents of all the opportunities GiGi’s can help with. The rest of the day was filled with more breakouts, speakers, and trainings. Around 2:30 I decided I need a pick me up from the Starbucks in the hotel and wandered off. As I came back the halls were empty but I could hear them filming the “A Little Something Extra” podcast. I decided to listen and the next thing I knew Nancy was calling me over to be a guest. Getting to share my story of my aunt, Paula, with them and what my something extra is meant a lot! The day wrapped up and it was time to dance! We had made so many deep connections with some of the other playhouses that it was like we had been friends for years.

My takeaway is the commitment! To see all these passionate people from other playhouses who are willing to share ideas, resources, and connections to help each other succeed in GiGi’s mission was incredible! In this ever-crazy world, we get to see hope!

GiGi's Playhouse Leadership Awards


Our team was given a SOE Championship Award that we are incredibly proud of! The Standards of Execution (SOEs) define a descriptive list of standards for each of the 8 core functions of the GiGi’s business.  Each Playhouse has an opportunity to achieve along a continuum of growth. Locations that have achieved Strong or Center of Excellence on at least 3 SOEs is recognized as a Champion.  We are invigorated and ready to did in even more as together, we continue to grow!


GiGi's Playhouse Leadership Awards




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  1. Amy Yoder on January 23, 2022 at 10:13 am

    You guys are amazing and Gigi’s is blessed to have all of you!

    • Heather Rodriguez on January 23, 2022 at 10:15 am

      Thank you, Amy! It is such a joy and honor to help change the world alongside amazing families, like yours, volunteers, and community supporters!

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