As the President of the Board of Managers for GiGi’s Playhouse Tampa, I’m often asked why bringing a Playhouse to the Tampa Bay Down syndrome community so important. Now that I’ve been a part of the project for 2.5 years, I have hundreds of reasons. In the beginning I was mainly motivated by what I saw as a parent to my now 7-year-old son Tommy and how it became apparent that the Playhouse would become a very important place for him and his friends.
Tommy has blessed the Steele family with the opportunity to raise him and become part of the Down Syndrome community. Tommy attends our local elementary school and is in general education classes and is provided with a para-professional and pulled out for 1-1 instruction. What is so great about where Tommy attends school is that all children at school adore him….at school. A parent with special needs understands exactly what I mean. The children at Tommy’s school are great and love him so much, but the difficulty comes in the extracurricular activities. Tommy was invited to (1) birthday party in 2018. When I ask Tommy’s typical friends for a play date, there is always something in the way of these plans happening.
The most difficult realization I have come to terms with is that no matter how much I want my son to be “typical” in societal definitions, he is not “typical”. As children grow and develop, the gap between Tommy and the kids at school grows. It starts out small, maybe Tommy colors outside the lines and his speech is delayed. However, at 7, Tommy is repeating the 1stgrade and is just now counting to 100. However, Tommy’s 5-year-old brother who is starting Kindergarten in the fall can run faster, count to over 300 and is reading the same books. While Tommy makes amazing strides every day, the gap between where he is and traditional children in his class continues to grow.
One thing that I know and believe in 100% is that our children need a place that they can call their own. GiGi’s Playhouse Tampa is this place. Even during construction, when I bring Tommy to the playhouse, he just knows he belongs. He walks right in and just feels right at home. Just last week, he was in the playhouse sweeping up the drywall dust while I was taking photos. He just looks comfortable and at “Home”.
I am so excited that GiGi’s Playhouse Tampa will offer all of our children FREE, purposeful programming to help our children achieve their “Best of All”. This will be a place where all of our children will feel at home. Our children will play together at school…and home…and the playhouse.
I hope to see every one of you at our House warming Celebration on August 18th. It will be the first day of our new journey toward achieving our best of all.
President – GiGi’s Playhouse Tampa