By LANDON WOODROOF
For over 14 years, GiGi’s Playhouse has been serving individuals with Down syndrome and their families by giving them a place to come together, learn and meet other people with similar life experiences.
In that time, GiGi’s Playhouse has grown from a single location in Illinois to nearly three dozen playhouses across the country and one in Mexico.
On Monday, GiGi’s Playhouse Nashville celebrated a ribbon-cutting at its new location at 1724 Carothers Parkway in Brentwood. The event was hosted by Williamson Inc.
The playhouse had been located in Maryland Farms for several years before moving to the Carothers site in November 2016. The new, larger building has allowed the organization to expand its program offerings in ways it never could have before.
“This move was really wonderful for all of our families as we have been able to achieve one of our biggest dreams, which is operating multiple programs at one time,” Site Manager Janea Rayborn said.
GiGi’s Playhouse provides free one-on-one tutoring, music programs, cooking classes and much more to its visitors, who can range from birth to adulthood. In the old building, the organization could only host one of those events at a time.
The change is apparent in the number of programs that GiGi’s Playhouse Nashville has held in the past year. Since November 2016, it has offered 223 programs, double what it was able to offer annually in the Maryland Farms building.
The organization does all of this work mainly through the work of volunteers like Emily Whitson. There are only two paid staff members at GiGi’s Playhouse Nashville.
Whitson’s daughter, Emmaline, 7, has Down syndrome and is a frequent participant in GiGi’s Playhouse programs. Emmaline has had math tutoring, literacy tutoring and has taken part in a special summer Backpack Buddies program at the playhouse.
GiGi’s Playhouse Nashville has been an invaluable resource for Whitson and her family, which includes Emmaline’s grandfather, State Representative Sam Whitson, who showed his support at the ribbon-cutting on Monday.
“I’ve made friends, she’s made friends, her siblings have made friends,” Emily Whitson said. “It’s really like a family. It’s just a great community.”
Of course, even though the program offerings at GiGi’s Playhouse are free, that does not mean that they do not cost anything. GiGi’s Playhouse gets all of its funding from private sources, including a number of community partners like Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe, the Tennessee Titans, the Nashville Predators, Belmont University’s Music Therapy program and more.
Whitson is chairing the organization’s big annual fundraiser, the “I Have a Voice” gala, which will be held on February 24, 2018 at the Hutton Hotel in Nashville.
The generosity of donors and just as importantly their belief in the GiGi’s Playhouse mission are what keep the organization alive and helping so many local families.
“As a nonprofit, financial stability and peace of mind happen because of the faith and hope in knowing that what you are doing is truly making a difference,” Rayborn said.
You can show your support for GiGi’s Playhouse Nashville here.