A ball for believers

If you follow my social media feeds, you’re probably already sick of seeing my pictures from last night’s GiGi’s Playhouse Believer’s Ball. I apologize if I seem overly exuberant. It’s been a long while since Jon and I have gotten really dressed up to go anywhere, and this was for a cause very near our hearts.

img_0442I’ve had a nasty sinus infection for more than a week, but I finally got antibiotics on Friday
and rested up as much as I could yesterday. I was determined to make this event.

If you’re not familiar with GiGi’s Playhouse, let me introduce you. GiGi’s is a network of
Down syndrome achievement centers. (I think the current count is around 30, including one in Mexico, with more opening all the time.) These are physical locations where people of all ages with Down syndrome and their families can gather for free therapeutic and skills training programs, socialization, one-on-one reading, math and handwriting tutoring and play in a fun and welcoming environment. Our Nashville GiGi’s is located in Brentwood, south of the city. As I’ve mentioned on this blog, I lead the Busy Bodies (previously 2 & Under) group for the littlest ones and their families. Lina has at different points participated in that group and a music and language img_0446class, and she and Corin now go every week to a Special Olympics Young Athletes event that focuses on beginning athletic skills. They LOVE that class. Most GiGi’s programs are led by therapists and experts in the areas they teach. Ninety-some percent of the people who work at our Nashville GiGi’s are unpaid volunteers.

When I talk to people about why GiGi’s is important to us, I go back to when Lina was a newborn and we were first trying to get our bearings. We had been introduced to the Down Syndrome Association, which offers fantastic resources for families. I was a little lost, though, on where to go to meet other families like ours. I wanted to connect in person with parents who had been where we were, but a support group felt too intense. Then I learned about a new place called GiGi’s Playhouse. At the time, we lived too far away to access GiGi’s as often as I wanted, but once we moved closer, it became a staple of our family’s social support system. As I’ve become involved as a volunteer, I have seen other families find in GiGi’s exactly what I was needing so badly when Lina was born: a place to connect, ask questions and find encouragement and support from people who just get it.

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Our girl on a centerpiece vase

In addition, GiGi’s is a big piece of Mission: Lina’s Future. It’s the answer to questions like, “What do we do to support Lina’s progress over the summer, when she’s not in school?” The answer: Sign her up for one-on-one tutoring and therapeutic programs at GiGi’s. “How do we make sure she and Corin have social support from people who understand their specific experiences?” The answer: Build a network of GiGi’s friends. “How do we support Lina’s independence as she grows?” The answer (or one piece of it – obviously this is part of a much broader plan): Get her involved in job training and social and therapeutic programs for older kids and young adults at GiGi’s.

img_0455GiGi’s works hard to build business and personal relationships in the community to educate and open doors for people with Down syndrome. These partnerships have allowed young adults with Down syndrome to learn floral arranging, become active members of a local CrossFit gym and find jobs at restaurants, businesses and even the Tennessee Titans. There is so much more I could tell you, but I think you get the picture: GiGi’s Playhouse is awesome.

The Believer’s Ball was a fun night out for a couple of parents who needed it. But it was also the biggest source of funding for the year for a place that makes life tangibly better for Lina and our family. So thank you to the many people who worked incredibly hard to organize the gala, to the many businesses and individuals who sponsored the gala and donated auction items, and to everyone who came out, bid in the auction and made generous donations. I hope you know how much it matters to a lot of families like ours.

New friends: 2 & Under at GiGi’s Playhouse

It’s been a little while since I’ve posted photos of our GiGi’s Playhouse 2 & Under group. We’ve gained some new members, and our long-time members have grown. One friend has a new little sister. A couple of our members spent some time in the hospital this winter battling nasty bugs but are thankfully healthy and thriving again. Our speaker this month was a behavior specialist who shared pro tips on addressing everything from potty training to throwing food and grabbing toys from friends to refusing to come when called. (And now you wish you’d been there…)

But really, you just want the cute pictures, right? I hear you.

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Quite a view: 2 and Under at GiGi’s Playhouse

I brought my camera to the 2 and Under group at GiGi’s Playhouse today, so you know what that means: pictures of ridiculously cute kiddos.

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Lina discovered there is a corner of GiGi’s full of books. The trick now will be to get her to play anywhere else.

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This little guy just turned five months old and was fascinated with the ceiling fans. Reminded me of Corin when he was tiny, smiling at the ceiling fans long before he smiled for us!

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This sweet girl has come such a long way since I first started coming to 2 and Under. I love getting to see her progress – look at that great sitting!

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These kids are growing and overcoming obstacles. Every month, they show progress that comes from a lot of hard work and persistence, from them, and from their parents and therapists. I love getting to watch that progress. I look at them, and I see such bright futures. I see kids who will break down barriers, soften hearts and open minds, kids who will achieve things others said they couldn’t. I see kids who will live beautiful lives of meaning and purpose. Above all, I see kids who will continue to give and receive love and joy so deep that words fail to scratch the surface. It’s quite a view; I hope you see it, too.

Kids on the move!: 2 and Under at GiGi’s Playhouse

Next week will bring the inevitable “I just sent my firstborn off to kindergarten” post, but today, we’re going with another dose of the cuteness that happens every first and third Wednesday at GiGi’s Playhouse. These kids are growing! Little ones who used to lay quietly on the mat are off at high speed, exploring the far corners of the room. We cheer them on and chat about the next milestones. Siblings play dress-up and tend the toy cash register.

It’s a pretty great way to spend a morning.

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2 and Under at GiGi’s Playhouse

I was asked a few months ago to be a new co-leader for the 2 and Under group at GiGi’s Playhouse. If you’re not familiar, GiGi’s Playhouse Down Syndrome Achievement Centers offer free educational and therapeutic programs for people with Down syndrome, their families and the community. These centers are amazing places, and we are so lucky to have one just a few minutes away.

The 2 and Under group is obviously for the really little ones. It’s a welcoming and supportive place for families who are perhaps still coming to terms with a diagnosis or who may have questions about early intervention, therapies, medical issues, and everyday kid stuff that comes up in those first years. It’s also a great opportunity just to connect and socialize with some really lovely people. A fantastic OT volunteers her time to help lead the group, and we sometimes bring in presenters to address various topics. Today, a physical therapist talked to the group about gross motor challenges for our kids and the importance of early therapy to help them develop healthy muscles and skills to build on as they grow. I love getting to be a part of this group, not the least because it means I get to play with some of the cutest itty bittys on the planet, even as Lina is rapidly leaving that stage behind.

I took the camera today and got permission from the parents to share some pictures of these precious kiddos. I’ll get to those shortly, but it would be an incomplete account if I didn’t disclose that for the duration of today’s session, Lina terrorized the room with an epic display of hair pulling. The minute we stepped in the door, I felt her little body tense, and it was downhill from there. I did joint compressions and tried to calm her, to no avail. She made the babies cry, she made the big kids cry, she yanked a mommy half-way to the ground. So, here’s my blanket apology to all the people Lina attempted to scalp today. That wasn’t exactly the warm and comforting environment GiGi’s aims to provide. We have a new OT lined up and are working on it, I promise.

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A much more peaceful Lina at home