I am honored to introduce you to three of our local neighbors, savvy businesswomen who share a burning passion and the common goal of opening GiGi’s Playhouse Houston in order to bring this fantastic, life-giving community to Houston’s individuals with Down syndrome. In addition to loving and supporting their own children born with Down Syndrome, Amy McDonald, Amanda Kreshover and Kristal Casey are moving forward with excitement, spreading the word about GiGi’s Playhouse and searching for a location to house GiGi’s Playhouse Houston.
There is a GiGi’s Playhouse in Sugarland, but the location is not convenient, to say the least, for families in Central and North Houston. Most children attend programs at GiGi’s Playhouse multiple times per week and the commute is not workable for many.
An estimated 6,000 children and adults with Down Syndrome live in the Greater Houston Area and GiGi’s Playhouse Houston is for them, making free therapeutic and educational programming available to many more families. There are five Playhouses in the greater Chicago area, and local leaders of GiGi’s Playhouse hope to replicate that model in Houston over the next few years.
GiGi’s Playhouse is a national network of Down syndrome achievement centers that currently serves 30,000+ individuals of all ages across the nation and in Mexico. The national website explains, “GiGi’s Playhouse Down Syndrome Achievement Center’s mission is to change the way the world views Down syndrome through national campaigns, educational programs, and by empowering individuals with Down syndrome, their families and the community. We offer free therapeutic and educational programming to individuals with Down syndrome and their families.”
To put it more bluntly, many families’ private health insurance will not cover speech, occupational, physical, feeding and toileting therapy to members with Down syndrome and private pay for these and other invaluable therapies is just not an option for most families. These families are left with Special Education programs in public school, and while Special Education does play a very positive role in many lives throughout our Houston area school districts, thousands of children need extra consistent therapy which Special Education just cannot provide.
Despite the participants’ skill level, age or their families’ ability to pay, GiGi’s Playhouse Down Syndrome Achievement Centers provides the life changing therapies programming mentioned above along with much, much more – a priceless gift. Tutoring, educational programming, art and creative movement, and later on, career training and lifeskill programs are also a part of what GiGi’s Playhouse offers.
GiGi’s Playhouse maintains, “By offering free programs and through our Generation G Campaign for global acceptance, we empower families by maximizing opportunities for daily achievement and lasting acceptance. To ensure lasting acceptance, we must show the world what individuals with Down syndrome are truly capable of achieving as students, co-workers, volunteers, friends, and valued members of their communities. Our program outcomes help advance this vital social impact goal. Down syndrome is the largest chromosomal disability in our country and yet, it is the least funded. From a prenatal diagnosis to career skills, we make a lifetime commitment to remain by their side. Families are empowered with all the tools their child loved one needs to succeed.”
GiGi’s Playhouse isn’t just about showing up for therapy and hard work, it’s about purposeful programs, celebrating individuals for who they are today, after school tutoring in academics, social activities for teens and career training! It’s so exciting to report that GiGi’s Playhouse owns a coffee shop in Illinois called Hugs & Mugs where teens and adults work and earn a paycheck. Proceeds go back into GiGi’s Playhouse and help to support the program. Kreshover, McDonald and Casey are hopeful Houston will one day soon have a Hugs & Mugs coffee shop, but first, GiGi’s Playhouse Houston must get off the ground.
Kreshover and McDonald met when their sons, Theodore and Davis, both 2 years old, were born within days of one another in the same hospital and were in the NICU at the same time. A precious friendship was sparked and the two mothers shared their experiences as new mothers of babies with Down syndrome, supporting one another through what, for them, was uncharted territory. Thrilled to welcome their babies, introducing them to family and friends and fielding their questions, loving their little miracles, but unsure about what was next – which way to go.
Beginning immediately to navigate through and searching for the resources their sons needed (infant feeding therapy, physical therapy, etc.), and finding shocking limitations in coverage with their own health insurance for the therapies their sons needed then and would need in the future, the two eventually discovered the miracle that is GiGi’s Playhouse. Kreshover and McDonald are the founders of GiGi’s Playhouse Houston and Kreshover, an attorney, is President.
Casey met Kreshover when she noticed Kreshover’s beautiful son, Theodore, now 2 years old, in the line at Target one day and started talking to him because she just couldn’t resist, she says, laughing. Introducing herself to Theodore’s parents there in the Target line, Casey shared the fact that her sweet son, Zayne, now 7, also has Down syndrome. Casey was thrilled to learn about GiGi’s Playhouse Houston and has leapt in to help in the search for a facility to house GiGi’s Playhouse Houston.
Along with McDonald, whose precious son Davis is also 2 years old, Kreshover and Casey are seeking a commercial rated and ADA-compliant space to lease around 2,000 sq. ft. in size, minimum, right here in our own Leader community. If you can help in the property search or know of the perfect space, let them know! Email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
In honor of World Down Syndrome Day on Mar. 21, GiGi’s Playhouse Houston launched Jeans for Genes, a cleverly named campaign supporting those who may have a bit different DNA and for those who love denim. This is a FUN fundraiser – to honor those with unique genetics by hosting host a Jeans for Genes Day on a day of your choosing. For one day only, employees can pay $10 to wear jeans to work! Send a photo of everyone rocking their best blues and GiGi’s Playhouse Houston will post on their Facebook page with a shout out to your company. Also, be on the lookout for more information about a Family Game Night at our very own Eureka Heights Brewery on April 20! To donate, please go to www.gigisplayhouse.org/houston.