What does it mean to be a part of GiGi’s Playhouse?

Video Transcription:

Mike Cirigliano: Hi. My name’s Mike Cirigliano. I’m president of the board at GiGi’s Playhouse Long Island, and my role is to support our board, our participants, and our volunteers the best that I can. GiGi’s Playhouse is a center, a destination, a place to me that supports all communities, any individual with a disability, an individual without a disability, just a place for families and participants to come together, support each other, help each other become the best that they can be. My passion for GiGi’s started to grow as I met more and more families. One of our participants at GiGi’s Playhouse Long Island is Nico. His mom is Vanessa, who is the chair of our Hispanic committee.

Vanessa Zaro: I am Vanessa Zaro. This is Nico Castellanos, Nico. I was 21 when I got pregnant. It wasn’t until his 20-week scan that they saw that something was very wrong with the baby. They immediately told me that I should abort, that the baby was not going to make it, that his heart was going to just stop in utero, and that we should just get ready to say goodbye. Sometimes, I want to take him into their office and be like, this is the human being that you told me that he shouldn’t be here.

But I went to another doctor at Winthrop University, and he was amazing. He didn’t care about my insurance, didn’t care about anything. He was like, come to my office. I want you to come here. I want to see this baby. I want to see the scans. And he saw him, and he looked up the sonic, and he was like, he has Down syndrome. And he’s like, but that’s totally okay. Once I knew more about Down Syndrome, it’s literally just the luck of the draw. It’s just the luckiness of God giving you another chromosome as a parent of somebody who has a disability in general, it’s scary. You don’t know what to expect, what’s going to go wrong. Having a place like GiGi’s Playhouse, literally 20 minutes away from us, so I could speak to see people with Down Syndrome in different ages and be like, okay, Nico’s going to be okay.

It’s a great resource. It’s a great community. It’s great for the community in general, not just with people with Down Syndrome. It’s good for inclusion. I’m so grateful that this facility exists for him. I want to thank Nancy for seeing 20 years ago that there was nothing for her daughter and making something for her daughter, and not only for her daughter but for every family with a person with Down Syndrome. I want to thank her. I see that it getting bigger and bigger. She’s international and it’s just amazing because she’s her daughter’s biggest advocate and look what she gave us. She gave us a sanctuary for our families.

Nancy Gianni: It’s people like Vanessa and Mike who built that sanctuary in Long Island or in Atlanta or in any community across the country where we have a GiGi’s Playhouse where these volunteers stepped in to serve their community with free programs, free therapeutic and educational programs, free career-based programs, free physical therapy-based fitness program, one-on-one tutoring and literacy and math, speech therapy. All of these different programs – they are the feet on the streets and the ones making it happen in their communities.

Vanessa: Nico sees and does, and the fact that this is all free, and we are based on fundraising. This is amazing. GiGi’s Playhouse plays a major role in a lot of lives of individuals with Down Syndrome and a major role in a lot of individuals without Down Syndrome. Here, we give acceptance of all, all of our programs are geared towards individuals with Down Syndrome, but we have some participants who have autism or some learning disabilities, and we welcome everybody with open arms.

A place like GiGi’s is like a sanctuary to us – for him to come and play, be with people that are not like him because a lot of the kids bring their siblings, so he’s included with them playing with them.

Franco Gianni: As a sibling. I think the most important message I can give to another sibling is come to the Playhouse, show up to GiGi’s, be a part of this community, and realize that there’s so many benefits that we could learn from each other and ways that we can help grow.

Vanessa: It’s really sad that a lot of families with individuals with Down Syndrome don’t know about it. The more people see that GiGi’s Playhouse exists, the more that they could say, Hey, I don’t have this within a couple of miles. For me, we should start fundraising and opening something up for our community. This is an amazing place for my son. Yeah, we are Generation G.

Mike: This 20-year anniversary is important to me. It shows the sustainability of GiGi’s Playhouse. It shows the need for GiGi’s Playhouse and how much it’s valued by all of our participants, our donors, our volunteers, and I would challenge any person that feels uncomfortable being around an individual with Down Syndrome to walk into a GiGi’s Playhouse to come visit us. Spend five minutes here and your life will change, and you’ll realize that every person deserves to be treated the same. One of the most popular questions I get from people is, do you have a child with Down Syndrome? My answer obviously is No. Walking into the Playhouse with my own kids who participate in the programs changed my view and my life, so I wouldn’t change it for anything.

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