Welcome Pa Houa Lee to Wausau’s Board of Managers!

Tell us a little about yourself (family, employment, how you spend your free time, etc.).

I am a refugee.  I was born in the Ban Vinai refugee camp in Thailand and raised in America. My sponsors were from the east coast and that was where I began my journey as a Hmong American girl. My parents moved us from Connecticut to Wausau in 1995 to immerse us in a community that was more diverse, in hopes that it would broaden our minds and opportunities. Since then, I’ve continued my life journey in Wausau, marrying my husband, raising my children, and building my career and business here.  I have four daughters and two sons. Their ages range between 2-18 years old.  We enjoy our big family and love one another’s company. We love soccer and when we’re not on the soccer fields, working, or going to school, you can find us on mini shopping trips, at the waterparks, and road trips.

How and when did you first get involved with GiGi’s Playhouse?

I’ve always wanted to be more involved in my community. Giving back is a piece of the puzzle to life’s journey that brings a fulfillment that stands out from the rest.   As a former elementary school teacher and mom, much of my time and energy was devoted to my profession and family.  At this point in my life, my kids are more independent and my transition in career has brought more balance to my overall life.  This leaves me with the opportunity to make time for community efforts. I heard of GiGi’s when it was first in the planning stages, but I was at a point in my life where my plate was very full as a fulltime mom, a demanding career, and in pursuit of my doctoral degree. It wasn’t until recently that I made a visit to the Playhouse with my son, Toby, that I became more involved. I was very impressed with the drive and vision of the organization and wanted to help support, advocate, and build upon the many programs and opportunities that are already in place.

Why did you decide to join the Board of Directors?   

Behind every strong organization are strong leaders and volunteers who are committed and invest 110% of their effort, time, and energy.  GiGi’s Playhouse in the Wausau Area is that organization.  I chose GiGi’s because I not only agree 110% for what this organization stands for, but I am in awe of the commitment of our volunteers that continue to foster the success of this playhouse.  This demonstrates unity and power that is needed to continue to move GiGi’s forward.   GiGi’s sends a strong and powerful message and advocates acceptance for all people. This, I’m sure, is part of the reason why our volunteers are very much invested.  This bold message is why I chose to be a part of this meaningful organization as Board of Directors! I want to be a voice for individuals that need the extra support and bring hope to families that are new to this journey.  Together, we can prepare our children to be independent and successful individuals through programming and collaboration with our local businesses; creating opportunities for our children to apply and showcase their abilities in the daily functions of our community. It’s important for people to see people with Down syndrome work in our local businesses and community because seeing is believing. People with Down syndrome is just as capable, just as willing, and want a good life just like you and me.

What does GiGi’s mean to you?

While GiGi’s is a Down Syndrome Achievement Center that provides support and opportunities for people with Down syndrome, I see it as more. I see it as a place for everyone. Whether you have a need or not, stop by to play and stay a while. Ultimately, GiGi’s is a place of opportunities and we are continuously growing our ideas and services to ensure that we provide early interventions that will help individuals become their own personalized version of a successful and thriving citizen in the community!

What is your favorite thing about the GiGi’s community? 

The level of commitment and unity that everyone brings to the table.  Most of all, when I walk through the doors of GiGi’s Playhouse, the feeling of belonging.  GiGi’s not only advocates acceptance for all but demonstrates it through its commitment to welcoming all to its playhouse and events.

What does acceptance look like to you?

This is so simple that it’s almost complicated. Accepting all people without judgement is the first layer. Next, take action. Collaborate and support equitable opportunities for all to learn and apply their skills and abilities at their level. Acceptance is coming together, pulling our resources together, thinking outside the box, breaking the status quo, and developing opportunities that go against what used to be and leverage off of what can be.

What do you look forward to doing/creating at the Playhouse?

Most importantly, advocate and showcase our space. If people don’t know we are here and what we stand for, people won’t know how they can support us. Community support is crucial in funding the various programs to meet various needs.  In addition, I look forward to collaborating and sharing ideas of how we can continue to grow our programs and meet a wider range of family and participant needs. There’s always room to grow!

What do you want the GiGi’s Playhouse Wausau community to know?

I’d like the GiGi’s Playhouse Wausau community and all people to know that I have a son. His name is Toby.  He is 9 years old.  I encourage everyone to get to know Toby.  Get to know him by spending time with him. Learn how humorous he can be through interacting with him. Learn how sassy he is through a conversation. Learn how much he loves soccer, football, and basketball by playing with him. Ultimately, learn who Toby is and learn who all children are through relationships, not a diagnosis.  It doesn’t matter what diagnosis Toby has or doesn’t have because what matters is that he is a person first. Acceptance of all means taking the time to know one another and know each other’s stories.  At the end of the day, perhaps you’ll find that your heart grew a little bigger and you want to contribute a little more. Like stars, we all shine at different times, different rates, and different points in our lives.  Some shine brighter, some shine longer, and some need more time to shine.  What WILL we do as community members and local businesses to help those stars that need a little more time to shine reach their fullest potential and their brightest shine? What WILL we do to help those stars that are shining continue to shine? Get to know the “Tobys” of your community and from there, I’m sure you’ll find the answer on how you want to contribute!

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