For the past year, GiGi’s has been a vision in my head. It was something I pictured countless of times, but I never knew exactly how the achievement center would look in person. What did it include? Were there rooms? How much space was there? What was there for kids/teens to do? Why should a family choose GiGi’s? These were all questions I thought of, and thankfully, had answered this week.

I had my first glimpse at an actual GiGi’s Playhouse in Madison. Instantly, what we’ve been working so hard to make a reality here in Wausau, came to life. I was greeted by a friendly and passionate site coordinator who was kind enough to show me around the space. Here are my takeaways from my first GiGi’s visit:

I was in awe of the wide variety of things to do. Toys, books, educational tools, and sensory items of all kinds, for all ages, were everywhere. There were countless games, a ball pit, a work out area, and TVs! You could never get bored!

I was also impressed with the area for volunteers. Inside, I could tell that education was prioritized at GiGi’s. Neatly placed folders lined the walls with different subjects for tutoring those who attend GiGi’s. Each volunteer had a place to put their belongings and tutoring materials, along with personal name tags so every kid or young adult knew they were there to help.

One of the areas that stuck out to me the most was the social room. The site coordinator informed me that this area was one where young adults could come to hang out, socialize and be independent. I could just envision that room filled with people my age, talking, laughing, sharing stories and getting to know each other better.

I also loved how this GiGi’s provided a work out area and a kitchen. I believe health is incredibly important for people with down syndrome. The gym area gives them a place to work on healthier lifestyles, strength, confidence, and it’s a great way to burn energy! Going hand-in-hand with that, the kitchen is a great way to learn about healthy cooking and baking, not to mention, it builds independence!

But what tied the whole experience together was the smiling faces that starred down at me from the walls. Kids, teens, and young adults with down syndrome in the Madison area had their pictures lining the walls of the center. I could almost feel their joy and happiness as I walked around, and it definitely felt more personal. I could tell GiGi’s had made an impact on each of those people’s lives. Each wall was also a different color. I love this because not only does it make the whole place more vibrant and lively, but it also reminders me of the colors people with down syndrome have brought into my life.

I was thrilled to be able to tour my first GiGi’s Playhouse just a couple hours away from where we’re building one. It was a great chance to get to see the reality of what our achievement center could look like. I honestly believe every city should provide a space like GiGi’s for families, students, teens and young children to get involved with. Not only does it provide a necessary safe space for families, but it also adds a little more color to the community.

Ally

GiGi’s Playhouse Wausau Vice-President

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