Candi Medeiros, Site Coordinator
Newest to the GiGi’s team is Candi Medeiros, Site Coordinator. Candi is a native Floridian and moved to the Tampa Bay Area in May 2019. She earned a B.S. from the University of South Florida in Business Administration and Management and an M.B.A. with minors in management and marketing from Florida International University. Candi joins GiGi’s Playhouse with nine years of experience working in a boarding and day school for students with learning differences. Her true passion in life is working with children and young adults and helping others. In her free time, Candi enjoys playing with her dog and cat, traveling, and spending time with family. She is extremely excited to join the GiGi’s team and spread the word about everything that GiGi’s Playhouse has to offer.
Jessica McDaniel, Programs Coordinator
Jessica McDaniel is thrilled to join the GiGi's team as Program Coordinator! She is a native New Yorker but now proudly calls Tampa home. Jessica has a B.A. from the University of Maryland and an M.A. from the University of South Florida in Communication Disorders. As a speech-language pathologist she has enjoyed helping countless people strive to reach their goals. She has a breadth of experience with babies through adults and their families. Recently she honed her entrepreneurial skills working for an international educational services company. In her free time, Jessica enjoys reading, Pilates, travel and spending time with her family. She loves GiGi's Core Values and can't wait to help GiGi's participants achieve all they set out to achieve!
Advocacy & Inspiration Team
Mary Frances Smith
GiGi’s Playhouse Tampa Board of Directors
Michael Sullivan, President
Michael Sullivan is a manager at ICI Homes, a custom home builder in Florida. He joined the home-building industry after a long career in education and educational leadership. Michael’s formal education includes a Master’s in Education Leadership from Manhattan College, a Master’s of Divinity in Theology from Saint Joseph Seminary, and a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy from St. John’s University. Michael and his family are members of St. Timothy Catholic Church. Michael first learned of GiGi’s Playhouse when he received the prenatal Down syndrome diagnosis for his daughter, Sophia. Since then Michael and his wife, Suzanne, have enjoyed attending programs at GiGi’s playhouse with Sophia. He has experienced the way the programs at GiGi’s have affected her development and is grateful that we have this resource in Tampa. Michael is committed to raising awareness of GiGi’s Playhouse Tampa so generations of individuals with Down syndrome can benefit from its services.
Maria Balderas, Vice President
Maria obtained an Occupational Therapy Assistant degree in 1998 and, has been working as an OT practitioner for over 22 years. . She has a bachelor’s degree in Business Management and is currently pursuing a degree in Organizational Leadership from South University. Her experience includes working as an O.T. practitioner in geriatrics, pediatrics, home health, acute rehabilitation, hand therapy, outpatient rehabilitation and management for 10 years. She currently works as a professor and Academic Fieldwork Coordinator for the Occupational Therapy Assistant program at South University, Tampa. Maria has established programming at GiGi’s Playhouse Tampa to have her students involved in providing O.T. services for participants of all ages at our Tampa location. She has been involved with GiGi’s Playhouse Tampa since early 2018, during the construction phase and is involved in the culinary program as a regular volunteer. She enjoys cooking, time with friends and family and travelling.
Jody Blocker, Treasurer
Jody Blocker retired from banking in 2011 after a 28-year career working through multiple bank mergers. Along with her daily duties, she took on the job of mentoring and training new employees during their on the job rotation period. When her son started school she became a regular fixture in school. Volunteering for 21 years in the elementary schools and consecutively doing 3 years at the middle school level. She held the position of PTA Treasurer for 7 of those 21 years. You could find her every Wednesday working in the library and reading to the students in their classrooms. Jody coordinated the Reading Is Fundamental program (RIF), Box Tops For Education and the Reading First program sponsored by her bank. In 2013 Jody was awarded the SERVE volunteer of the year award for both Hillsborough County and the State of Florida. After retiring Jody was diagnosed with breast cancer and spent the first year of retirement going through treatments and still found time to volunteer at the school. When a friend who has a little girl with Down syndrome mentioned she was working on opening a GiGi’s Playhouse here in Tampa Jody jump right in and asked what she could do to help. Jody was the Finance Lead during our start up years and the year our Playhouse opened Jody joined the Board as the Treasurer.
Michael Bucalo, Board Member
Michael Bucalo is a Merrit Island native who has called Tampa home for nearly 15 years. He attended the University of Florida and Santa Fe College earning a degree in Construction Management. Currently a partner and Vice President of Friedrich Watkins Tampa, he has been involved in the design and build of many Bay Area staple projects at The Straz, USF, University of Tampa, The Florida Aquarium, Amalie Arena, Zoo Tampa and Busch Gardens.
Michael is an avid hockey player and fan. He has a passion for volunteer work and advocating, and is a member of the University Of Tampa Board Of Counselors and a founding chair person with the American Cancer Society Associate Board of Ambassadors. Michael discovered GiGi’s Playhouse while researching programs for his newborn son Mason who has Down syndrome and immediately reached out to get involved in the playhouse.
He resides in Wesley Chapel with his wife, sons Mason and Merrit and two dogs.
Kier R. Cooper, Board Member
Kier grew up in Tampa, Florida. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Engineering Sciences from Dartmouth College in 1986. Kier worked in technical sales and various commercial roles with Schlumberger Industries and Westinghouse Electric from 1986 to 1991. In 1991, he returned to the Tampa Bay area to buy and run Engineer Sales Company. Kier has been the President of Engineer Sales for the past 29 years. Kier served on the board of the Electrical Equipment Representatives Association from 2010-2017, rotating through each board position to President in 2015. Kier is a member of Palma Ceia Presbyterian Church and served as an Elder on Session from 2013-2016. In addition to GiGi’s Playhouse Tampa, Kier actively supports Created Ministries, a local Tampa charity. Kier and his wife Lauren have been married for 27 years and have two grown children, Case (24) and Kennedy (22).
Janet Rinaldi, Board Member
Janet Rinaldi is the Director of Family Advocacy for West Florida Foster Care Services. Having adopted one of her daughters through the foster care system, Janet has a special love for serving those who have committed to fostering children, as well as for building community within non-traditional parenting and special needs parenting. She is committed to coming alongside those serving in foster care by offering community focused support through relationships, coaching, serving, and giving. Janet has a Bachelor's degree in Psychology, and owned a small business bakery in the Tampa Bay area for thirteen years. Mom to a blended family of seven kids, Janet has a deep commitment to children and families, and looks forward to bringing her skills and passions to the GiGi's family.
Gabriela Rosello/Synthia Fairman, Board Member
Gabriela Rosello and Synthia Fairman are the owners of Doublemint Sitting which was established in 2016. Doublemint Sitting is the number one referral based babysitting and pet sitting service across the state of Florida. They provide services to all families but specialize with adults and children with specials needs.
After working at a foster home in 2013 they realized their love for nonprofits and helping the community. They began volunteering within the special needs community in 2016 and were introduced to the idea of GiGi’s Playhouse shortly after. They knew right away they had to become part of this organization and joined the GiGi’s board in early 2020.
Jason Sizemore, Board Member
Jason Sizemore is Manager of Cyber Security Operations Center at TECO Services, an Emera Company. Jason has an extensive background in regulatory compliance, information technology, risk management and information security. Jason is responsible for security, confidentiality and integrity of company data for all TECO affiliates. Jason holds a Master of Business Administration from Saint Leo University and two Bachelor of Science degrees in Management Information Systems and Economics from University of South Florida.
Jason believes in giving back to the community, especially when geared towards children with special needs; abandoned, abused or orphaned children; and struggling families. Jason lives in the Tampa Bay area with his wife and three children.
Ed Spinks is an attorney and retired officer of the U.S. Marine Corps. He has been practicing law nationally and in the State of Florida for over 20 years. He is the owner of Spinks Law Firm where he practices in the areas of wills, trusts and estate planning; he is also the founder of Child First Advocates LLC which provides education advocates for families to assist them with individualized education plans (IEP) within the school system. Ed holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of South Florida – Tampa; a Juris Doctor degree from Florida State University and a Certificate in Special Education Advocacy from William & Mary Law School. He resides in Tampa, Florida with his wife - Tina, son - William, who has Down syndrome, and daughter - Lilly. He enjoys volunteering for the YMCA where he assists with soccer and gymnastics. He is a member of the Florida Bar Association, where he serves on the Education Law Committee, and Hawaii Bar Association; he is also a member of the Council of Parents Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA), Hillsborough County Parent Teacher Association, and Veterans of Foreign Wars - Post 25.
Kory Sprehe, Board Member
Kory Sprehe is currently a sales executive for a cybersecurity solution provider and has worked professionally in Information Technology sector, supporting Fortune 500 companies and government organizations in Florida for the past eight years. Kory has called Tampa, FL home after graduating from Jesuit High School and the University of Tampa as a student-athlete on the Men’s soccer team. It was in college where Kory began mentoring as a member of the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization. To this day, he maintains a relationship with his “little” who is now enlisted in the United States Navy. Kory has continued to follow his passions by being an Event Volunteer/Coach with the Special Olympics and orchestrates a division of Tennis For Fun, which provides special needs athletes the ability to learn motor and socialization skills. Kory has joined the Board of Directors at GiGi’s Playhouse because of their vision and purpose of supporting the local Down syndrome community. He has always been passionate about helping others and is excited to extend the awareness and outreach for GiGi's Playhouse.
Christopher Steele, Past President
Christopher Steele is the Past Board President of GiGi’s Playhouse Tampa. He has been involved in the playhouse since the onset and has a passion for developing the Tampa Playhouse into a model for how future playhouses can be developed. Christopher also works for Tampa Electric Company as the Engineering & Maintenance Manager of an 1,800 MW Power Plant. His career with Tampa Electric spans over 20 years with increasing levels of responsibility. Christopher’s formal education includes a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of South Florida and a Master’s in Business Administration with a Corporate Finance Concentration from the University of Tampa. Christopher is also a Registered Professional Engineer in the State of Florida and a Senior Member in the IEEE. Christopher is also on the board of the Advent Health Hospital Carrollwood Foundation committee.
Julia Steinbrenner has a personal and professional passion for advocating for children, especially those with Down syndrome and special needs. She is employed by the New York Yankees and is a member of the New York Yankees Tampa Foundation, and serves on the board of the Children’s Dream Fund and St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital. Julia is strongly committed to the mission of GiGi’s Playhouse and providing a special dedicated place for those with Down syndrome to achieve and become their best of all through the no-cost programs.
Jessica joined the GiGi’s Playhouse Tampa Board in March 2018. Originally from Calgary, Alberta, Canada – she moved to Tampa and began classes at the University of Tampa in August, 2006. She graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science in Sport Management in 2009 and has been working for the New York Yankees and their local Minor League teams since. Jessica has been able to bring the two together, by working with players & coaches to offer a baseball fundamentals clinic to participants of GiGi’s. The program has proven to be beneficial for both the baseball players and the participants with Down syndrome. It’s given a unique opportunity for each to make new friends and learn the game in a positive environment.