Rebecca Bearjar, Board President
Having grown-up in Wausau, Rebecca studied in St. Petersburg, Russia and Portland, Oregon before settling in Madison, Wisconsin where she worked in web development and email marketing. She returned to the Wausau area in 2010 to join her family business. As manager of a community-based independent retail store, Rebecca is an active member of Wausau River District. In her spare time, Rebecca enjoys hiking, biking, reading and knitting.
Rebecca and her husband, Niles, are the proud parents of Katelyn (3-years-old) and Nathan (9-months-old). Following a traumatic birth, Nathan was diagnosed with Trisomy 21 during his stay in the NICU. Rebecca is grateful for the support and friendship provided by other local parents of children with Down syndrome and she looks forward to giving back to the community as a member of GiGi’s Playhouse in Wausau.
Ally Peters, Vice President
Ally moved to Wausau in May of 2018 to begin working at Channel 9 WAOW TV as an evening anchor. She has a Bachelor's degree from the University of Missouri, where she began her journalism career as freshman. Ally lives in the area with her husband and their Samoyed puppy. She is originally from Minnesota, so Wausau seems just like home.
Since fourth grade, Ally has been working with the special needs community. She has held a leadership position for multiple years at Best Buddies and helped run the special needs program for years at her previous church.
Ally got involved with GiGi's after moving to Wausau because she knew she wanted to help advocate for people with Down syndrome, while giving back to the community. She believes everyone should have a safe place they can go to grow, learn and have fun, without it being a financial burden to families.
In her free time, Ally enjoys traveling with her husband, trying out new coffee shops, and reading a good book. She is very excited to be a part of GiGi's and looks forward to the change it will bring to central Wisconsin.
Karen Apfelbeck, Board Treasurer
Karen was born and raised in Central Wisconsin. She has a bachelor’s degree in Accounting from Upper Iowa University. She has a spent the majority of her career in the banking industry - specializing in operations, accounting, compliance, and fraud prevention.
In her spare time, Karen enjoys spending time with family. Karen is excited to be a part in bringing GiGi's Playhouse to Wausau, because it fills a need for the community, not only in central Wisconsin, but for our families in more rural areas like the Northwoods and U.P.
Dawn Follendorf, Board Secretary
Dawn was born and raised in Wisconsin and has been a Wausau resident since 2009. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting from University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Master’s in Public Service from Marquette University. From her service as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Philippines to serving as the Director of Wausau’s Main Street program, she has dedicated her career to community and economic development. She currently serves as the Community Reinvestment Officer of IncredibleBank. Dawn is motivated to see GiGi’s thrive in Wausau because she knows that strong communities are diverse and inclusive.
Dawn loves to spend the summer months gardening, traveling with her husband, and disc golfing with her dog. Her favorite winter activities include cooking and playing foosball.
Erica Erdman, Wausau Founder & Volunteer Coordinator
Erica lives in Merrill, Wisconsin with her longtime boyfriend Carl and son Braxton, who has Down syndrome. Erica has a bachelor's degree in Psychology with Human Services and a bachelor’s degree in Art with an emphasis in glass. Erica’s professional experience includes many years in various human service roles serving the developmentally disabled, mentally ill, and unemployed populations. Erica has recently become a stay a home mother to more easily care for Braxton’s needs.
Erica brings her professional experience to GiGi’s Playhouse Wausau because of her continued desire for Down syndrome services and support in North Central WI. In particular, she is interested in the employment-based programming and connecting the Down syndrome community to supportive local businesses.
Erica cherishes her time with Braxton and tries to make his learning and playtime as creative as possible. Erica spends her free time making Down syndrome arts and crafts, costumes and various projects and looks forward to bringing her creativity to GiGi’s Playhouse Wausau.
Kris Schirmacher, Board Member
Kris recently relocated with her family back to the Wausau area after many years in the Madison, WI area. She holds a Bachelor’s degree from UW-Whitewater and has over 20 years of experience focused in IT and project management across health care, utilities and insurance.
While in the Madison area, Kris worked with several non-profit groups and was active in their fundraising efforts. In her spare time she enjoys home renovation projects, stock market investing and baking.
Kris and her husband Dale have three children – Brandon, Emily and Irie and one grand-daughter, Lilly. The whole family is excited for what GiGi’s Playhouse will bring to the Central Wisconsin area.
Cory Durbin, Co-Program Coordinator
Cory is an Early Childhood Special Education teacher with the Wausau School District where she has been employed since 2016. Prior to this, she was a service coordinator with the North Central Health Care Birth-to-Three program for 11 years. She was also previously a camp counselor for 4 summers at Elk’s Camp Grassick in Dawson, ND working with children and adults with special needs. Throughout these experiences, her knowledge and passion for working with individuals with special needs, Down syndrome in particular, has grown.
She received her bachelor’s degree in communication disorders from Minnesota State University, Mankato; and a master’s degree in early childhood special education from Minnesota State University, Moorhead
Cory resides in Merrill, WI with her husband, John, and 3 children: Gabriel-13, Caroline-10, and Sylvia-7. As a family they enjoy camping, spending time with extended family, enjoying nature, taking family vacations, having movie and game nights, and are actively involvement in Boy Scouts.
Leslie Keeffe, Co-Program Coordinator
Wausau has been Leslie’s home for most of her life. She attended the University of Wisconsin Madison earning a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and then a few years later earned a degree in Physical Therapy, also from UW Madison. Leslie’s professional experiences include teaching at a Montessori school for several years before starting a 20-year career as a physical therapist, serving for a majority of that time as the Birth to Three therapist for Marathon, Lincoln and Langlade Counties. In her career she has gained experience in aquatic therapy, ergonomics, and school- based therapy.
In her free time, Leslie enjoys spending time with her family and rescue animals, hiking, zip lining and enjoying a good movie. She is very excited to be a part of GiGi's and looking forward to giving back to the Wausau area community through GiGi’s Playhouse.
Jackie Duerst, Board Member
Jackie and her husband Paul have lived in Wausau for 30 years, raising their 4 children. Jackie has extensive experience with the special need's community through work in the school districts. Jackie, believing in the power of every individual, sees the need for GiGi’s Playhouse in Central Wisconsin and is thrilled to be part of the initiative.
In her free time Jackie enjoys visiting her children and grandchildren, hiking and traveling.