New Resource Opens for Those With Down Syndrome
Edgar will be two years old next month. A happy and healthy toddler, his favorite thing is playing and interacting with Olivia, his 4-year-old sister. Edgar also has Down syndrome.
His mother, Lory Cenac Lewis, has learned many things since Edgar’s diagnosis several weeks after his birth. She says she’s also learned a lot from her young son.
“He’s taught me that one does not need to be afraid of disabilities or uncomfortable around people who have them,” she says.
Lewis also discovered Gigi’s Playhouse, a leading advocate for Down syndrome. Gigi’s Playhouse is the only international network of Down syndrome Achievement Centers that makes a lifetime commitment to families from diagnosis to adulthood. It provides therapeutic, educational and career development programs that are free to participants.
“[The organization] is able to offer free programs because of the generous donors who give their funds and committed volunteers trained by subject matter experts who give their time,” says Lewis, who is also the local organization’s treasurer. “Our programs are 99 percent volunteer run.”
On Saturday, October 17, a new playhouse will be opening in New Orleans. It will be the 50th Down syndrome Achievement Center in the national GiGis’ Playhouse network.
“It’s a virtual grand opening party that will be streamed on our website and Facebook page and will be available for replay afterwards,” says Lewis.
GiGi’s Playhouse, Inc. was founded in 2003 in the Chicago area by Nancy Gianni and named for her daughter, GiGi, who was diagnosed with Down syndrome. The vision for GiGi’s Playhouse is to create a physical place where families can celebrate their children and find resources, community and empowerment.
The group is renting space for the new center from the American Legion Post 350 Veterans Club.
“You may remember it as the temporary home of the Deutsches House,” Lewis says.
GiGi’s Playhouse New Orleans will serve people with Down syndrome from infancy through adult, as well as their families through both group enrichment and one-on-one tutoring programs.
“We estimate that there are more than 800 families in the metro area that can include a loved one with Down syndrome,” says Lewis. “Plus, as our founder Nancy Gianni emphasizes, the Playhouse not only serves local families, but it provides the community with a place to serve. We look forward to providing opportunities for local volunteers to interact with people with disabilities in a fun and productive environment.”
Lewis and the other members of GiGi’s Playhouse aim for the center to be a place where:
Parents can go to for good information when they first receive a prenatal or postpartum diagnosis;
Infants and toddlers can attend group enrichment programs to supplement the Louisiana Early Steps early intervention therapies;
School-age children can receive tutoring that specifically addresses the learning difficulties that often accompany a diagnosis;
Teens can make friends and participate in fitness programs specifically designed to complement their joint laxity and congenitally low muscle tone;
Adults can learn life and career-supporting skills;
Families can be in regular contact with each other for best-practices; and
Members of the community can come to teach and learn from people different than themselves in order to create a more inclusive city.
“Everyone deserves kindness and respect, even if they look or speak differently than you do,” says Lewis, who adds “it is OK to ask questions about how life is different with special needs.”
To change the way the world views Down syndrome and send a global message of acceptance for all.
Oscar J. Tolmas Charitable Trust
Down Syndrome Association of Greater New Orleans
Davis Molony Fund
How can readers help?
Gigi’s Playhouse is looking for more people to volunteer to lead and co-lead in-person programs, as well volunteers to do administrative coordination that could be done remotely. It will be practicing COVID-19 safety protocols. The more volunteers it has, the more programs it can offer. For more information, visit: gigisplayhouse.org/neworleans/volunteer.
How can businesses help?
GiGi’s Playhouse are always in search of more business sponsors to help fund its free programs. Because of COVID-19, the organization has been unable to have fundraising events so it is focusing on sponsorships, grants and individual donations. Businesses are invited to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Address: 1023 Ridgewood Drive, Suite 2, Metairie, Louisiana 70001
Phone: (504) 321-6770