Marisa Dunn’s two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Eleanor, has apraxia, a motor speech disorder that affects many children with Down Syndrome. Her daughter enjoys and benefits from a sign language and music class at GiGi’s Playhouse in Hoffman Estates, but driving the 45-minute, one-way trip from Deerfield is daunting.
Recently Dunn joined forces with other North Shore parents to bring GiGi’s Playhouse, a Down Syndrome Achievement Center offering free therapeutic and educational programs for children, adults, and their families, to Deerfield.
“Eleanor doesn’t have very many verbal words,” said Dunn. “That’s why the speech programs that GiGi’s offers are so important to all kids with Down Syndrome, because speaking is difficult for them.” Dunn, her husband and other close family members have also started learning sign language and, like Eleanor, they know about 150 signs.
Nancy Gianni is the founder of GiGi’s, which began when her daughter was born in 2003 with Down Syndrome. It started in Hoffman Estates as a place for her daughter, and it evolved into a national organization that has 31 locations across the United States and Mexico.
The playhouse is nearly 100 percent run by volunteers, said Dunn; the only paid staff member is the site director.
Dunn explained that Liz Thorn, a mom she met at a two-and-under playgroup, submitted a request to open a playhouse in Deerfield.
Thorn said the starter family members of Deerfield’s Gigi’s Playhouse don’t have an address for it yet, as “we still need to secure enough funds in order to sign a lease. We anticipate being in Cadwell’s Corners, 39 Waukegan Road in Deerfield though, pending availability when we are ready.”
GiGi’s Playhouse Deerfield recently participated in the “Care in Color Run” fundraiser at Libertyville High School on May 6. The color run involved spraying the participants with colored powder. This year the students selected GiGi’s Playhouse in Deerfield to receive proceeds of the event. The Dunns attended the color run, and Eleanor ran a lap with other children and adults with Down Syndrome.
The next fundraising event for GiGi’s Playhouse in Deerfield will take place at Shakou in Libertyville, which is hosting Good Eats For Good!, an evening of food, drinks, community and fundraising on May 21 from 6 to 9 p.m.
Shakou is located at 625 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Libertyville.
The Shakou Cares program is the social mission of Shakou. The owner of Shakou designed the program to help support local causes within the community and is dedicated to raising funds, finding cures and championing worthy causes, according to a press release.
Another GiGi’s Playhouse in Deerfield startup member, Shanda Keiser, said she hopes the Shakou event will be well attended. Her five-year-old daughter, Taylor, was born with Down Syndrome.
“When we found out that Liz was working to bring a team together to open a playhouse in Deerfield we decided to jump on board,” said the Lake Forest resident.
GiGi’s Playhouse in Deerfield is hoping to reach people from Gurnee all the way to Wilmette.
“The playhouse provides not only support for families from birth to adulthood, but they will provide occupational and speech therapy,” said Keiser. GiGi’s Playhouse has also developed a literacy program and tutoring. Many of the locations have kitchens where people can learn how to cook.
The playhouse is open to everyone, and Keiser said her older children, ages 10 and 12, want to bring their friends to help.
Dunn added that her daughter is very social and loves to be with her friends.
Dunn explained that Gigi’s Playhouse has a program that teaches adults with Down Syndrome job skills, and many of them work at a coffee and gelato shop called Hugs & Mugs. The adults also help and interact with the children in the programs, which benefits everyone involved.
“I’m happy that we will be able to utilize the playhouse more often than we are able to now,” said Dunn. “The playhouse has been one place where I know we’ll be welcomed and my daughter is never going to be judged for being different. This is one place that is like an extended family and I know it will always be there for us.”
For more information and tickets to Shakou Libertyville’s Good Eats For Good! May 21 event from 6 to 9 p.m. at 625 N. Milwaukee Avenue, visit: gigisplayhouse.org/Deerfield.