My First Gigi’s Playhouse Conference

Yesterday was a long but inspirational day.  I left my house at 5:30 in the morning and drove over to pick up Kathleen.  We then went to pick up another friend and drove down to Chicago for the annual Gigi’s Playhouse conference.  We sat in a room filled with people from 16 different open playhouses and 3 other “emerging” playhouses.  We learned about everything from best practices in leadership, to programming, finances, communication and spreading awareness.  We listened to adults with Down syndrome get up and give beautiful speeches about what Gigi’s Playhouse has meant to them.  We heard from people who give everything of themselves to run a playhouse.

For me, one of the most touching moments of the day was meeting Richard Reilly and his wife Marilee.  Richard has a five year old grandson, Louis, with Down syndrome.  They live in New York and are a big part of the New York Playhouse.  So big, in fact, that Richard’s daughter was the one who opened that playhouse and went to him for assistance and guidance.  In their retirement, Richard and Marilee volunteer their time at the playhouse.  What was even cooler was this awesome trip they took.  Their niece was getting married in South Dakota so the couple decided to take a road trip and visit all of the Midwest Playhouses along the way.  They documented their journey and wrote a travel guide based upon their experiences.

We got back from Chicago late last night and I was asleep before my head even hit the pillow.  When I woke up this morning, after getting some quality cuddling in with PJ, I retrieved my copy of Richard’s travel guide and sat down to read.  He had me in tears.  He was so eloquent in his description of the value of each individual playhouse.  His words perfectly described what I envision here in Milwaukee and what I want for PJ.  He described meeting a grandmother who had a child with Down syndrome.  When he asked her what she wanted for her granddaughter her only word was “more.”  My feelings exactly.  More.

He writes about the concept of Future.  Future is part of the mission of Gigi’s Playhouse.  We want to “embrace expectations and possibilities for our children and our families’ future.”  Gigi’s Playhouse strives toward helping people with Down syndrome experience the value of independence.  “Parents naturally want quality of life and independence for their children.  I’m convinced, more than ever, that our efforts at  Gigi’s Playhouse will have an impact on that goal.”  So am I Richard.

A few blog posts back I wrote about the idea of inclusion.  Richard wrote about a girl named Janelle.  When Janelle heard about Gigi’s Playhouse her eyes lit up and he could “see in her eyes that she wanted to meet more people like herself.  Janelle wants to stand in, not out.  Like any girl her age she wants us to see the girl in the pretty dress.  She wants to be accepted for her qualities, her person, not separated because of Down syndrome.”

In his epilogue, Richard writes:

“Receiving the diagnosis of Down syndrome for your child is traumatic.  How do you cope, find the celebration of new birth, build a future?  Imagine further, in a time of crisis, having few to turn to.  not everyone has the support of a loving and generous family.  While Gigi’s Playhouse cannot be everything, we are first a place, a source.  We are here for information and direction, a real voice with experience and guidance.  many have been there and know the need.  The need for a listening ear, the need to feel the power of hands holding hands.  To tell you sometimes that your confusion and frustrations are normal – to reinforce that you deserve to experience celebration – that hope and trust in the future can return to your life.”

I am so excited to be a part of opening a Gigi’s Playhouse here in Milwaukee.  We are hoping to host a family event after the first of the year and plan on a gala in early April.  I can’t wait for the day when we are hosting our grand opening.  When PJ and Emily get to go learn and have get therapy through purposeful play.




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