GiGi’s Playhouse Offers Free GiGi’s-At-Home Service During COVID-19 Outbreak
Photography Provided by GiGi’s Playhouse
It is said that there is a silver lining to every cloud. Denisse Jensen, Executive Director of GiGi’s Playhouse Down Syndrome Achievement Center, has found a way to benefit many families amidst COVID-19 shutdowns. Days after the Indianapolis facility, located at 5909 East 86th Street, closed it doors, Jensen and volunteers converted in-person programming into Gigi’s-At-Home. Now, lesson plans, videos and student handouts plus real-time activities are available via the internet.
Gigi’s Playhouse is a nonprofit organization that has 48 locations across the United States and one in Mexico. The Indianapolis site opened in 2015. Today, it serves more than 500 families in Central Indiana as well as some families who travel from Ohio. Its educational and therapeutic programs for both children and adults with Down Syndrome, are completely free and are funded entirely through grants, corporation partnerships and donations.
“The founder, Nancy Gianni, started the first GiGi’s Playhouse in 2003,” Jensen says. “She named it after her daughter, GiGi, who was born with Down Syndrome. After she was turned away from joining playgroups, Gianni realized that there needed to be a place for families like them.”
“Everybody desires to have a place where kids are inspired to be their best self. GiGi’s is a place that fosters inclusion and acceptance. We embrace the whole family and offer support all the way from a pre-birth diagnosis through adulthood. We feel that limits can’t be put on someone just because of a diagnosis.”
In Indianapolis, GiGi’s Playhouse has a staff of two full-time employees plus one who works part-time. Programing is conducted by dedicated volunteers. When it halted its in-person educational sessions in order to comply with COVID-19 mandates, Jensen had to act quickly. She and volunteers converted many programs to accessible online formats and assembled bags full of supplies and lesson plans.
“Families who enrolled in Spring Session Two drove by and picked up the bags,” Jensen says. “Families not enrolled can access the program information on our website, using their own supplies. The response has been so great that other GiGi’s locations throughout the nation started using our online model. We have had thousands of views and have gained hundreds of new families. Now, families in locations without a GiGi’s Playhouse can connect with us.”
The development of free online content has removed barriers for participation since it can be accessed whether a family lives in a rural setting or inside a city. Early learners enjoy LMNOP class which is filled with music and teaches sign language. Several programs, which include Touch Math, cooking and art, are available for school-age and teen participants. For adults, there are exercise classes and a volunteer tutorial of making toys for the Humane Society.
“When we made the Gigi-At-Home bags, it depleted our supplies, but what good would they have done just sitting there not being used? That’s why our August 29 fundraiser, 3.21 Run in Noblesville’s Forest Park will be critical this year,” Jensen says. “It’s a fun afternoon for family and friends but it is the fundraiser that pays for all our program expenses.
“GiGi’s at home is keeping our families purposeful during this difficult time. I’m so proud that we can continue being a part of their lives,” she adds.
GiGi’s Playhouse is located at 5909 East 86th Street. Call 317-288-8235 or visit gigisplayhouse.org/indianapolis for more information.
For information about 3.21 Run visit gigisplayhouse.org/Indianapolis/3-21-race.