A center for children and adults with Downs Syndrome is planned to open later this year in Madison, bringing a closely-knit community even closer.
Gigi’s Playhouse offers free educational and therapeutic opportunities to individuals with Downs Syndrome, Patrick Ryan, Gigi’s Playhouse board member, said.
Gigi’s Playhouse works to bring other resources in Madison for individuals with Downs Syndrome together, Ryan said.
“The challenge isn’t so much Downs Syndrome, it’s finding the services that are available in the Madison area and bringing them all together,” Ryan said. “It will be a central place for people to come, not only for therapeutic and educational programs, but also to network with other people with families with Downs Syndrome relatives.”
The educational opportunities offered are geared toward children with Downs Syndrome, Ryan said. For older students, job skills are taught to prepare them for the future as they start their career path, he said.
Along with Downs Syndrome, a lot of these individuals also suffer from other disabilities, such as autism, Zane Torgrude, president of Gigi’s Playhouse Madison Board, said. Gigi’s Playhouse works to accommodate to those who have multiple disabilities, he said.
“It gives [families] a place to come and learn more about what are realistic expectations, to learn more about what the stability is about for these children, to get support from other families they meet from the facility,” Torgrude said.
Presently, no facilities in Madison focus on growth and development like Gigi’s Playhouse, Torgrude said.
One of the other resources in the city includes the Madison Area Downs Syndrome Society, which works as a networking opportunity for families Downs Syndrome affects, Ryan said.
Ryan used to work on the board for MADSS, and one of the things the organization struggled with most was deciding how to give back to their members.
“When we discovered Gigi’s Playhouse, kind of a blueprint for a center that has all the programming in place, meaning the reading programs, the physical education programs, the job training programs, they already have that developed,” Ryan said. “It really seemed like a great idea to partner with them, so we didn’t have to spend a lot of time and effort and money to reinvent those programs.”
The Waisman Center and the Madison Area Rehabilitation Center are two other organizations involved in the research and study of disabilities, including Downs Syndrome, Ryan said.
Although the Downs Syndrome community in Madison is strong, Gigi’s Playhouse will only bring them closer, Ryan said.
“It’s going to be a unifier, it’s going to better publicize the services that are available now and bring them all together,” Ryan said. “We have great resources in the volunteers that we will recruit to provide those services and programs. It will be a good thing for those therapists and educators to not only donate their time, but to reconnect with the community in large.”