Nancy Gianni and Adrienne Mulligan
The Magic of GiGi’s Playhouse
Two mothers build a place where their children with Down syndrome can thrive. Their idea spreads across the country and beyond.
The diagnosis changed everything. But not in the way that the gloomy hospital staff surrounding her had thought.
Soon after Nancy Gianni welcomed her daughter, GiGi, into the world in 2002, she learned the child was born with Down syndrome.
Doctors delivered the unexpected news with sorrow and pity.
Years later, Adrienne Mulligan also was enveloped by long faces after her daughter, Sara Kate, was born in 2006 with Down syndrome, which is sometimes called Trisomy 21.
Both mothers felt unprepared and uncertain. But both refused to settle for sadness or fear.
Instead, Nancy — our guest in this episode — set into motion a journey of growth, hope, and unconditional love that has reached tens of thousands of families.
Nancy founded GiGi's Playhouse, a nonprofit network offering free educational, therapeutic, and other programs for individuals with Down syndrome, as well as support for their families.
The organization started with a single storefront outside Chicago, which Nancy launched within a year of GiGi's birth. The organization today offers services at more than 50 locations across the U.S. and Mexico.
Our other guest in this show, Adrienne, launched the GiGi's Playhouse chapter in Atlanta.
The organization's mission statement is simple: to see a world where individuals with Down syndrome are accepted and embraced in their families, schools, and communities.
Between their in-person sites and online programming, GiGi's serves more than 25,000 families each year.
But it's not just about the numbers. GiGi's Playhouse is remarkable for the unique and empowering way it provides its services.
The mood inside a Gigi's Playhouse is uplifting by design. Hugs are plentiful. Adrienne says, "There is something hilarious, or something emotional, every time you walk in the door."
GiGi's Playhouse is a special place serving people with special needs. And it's something all of us need more than we might recognize.
As Nancy points out: "We are all just seconds away from being different, or loving someone who is different."
During March we celebrate World Down Syndrome Day. The date is 3/21, which represents three copies of the 21st chromosome — the unique genetic difference which marks Down Syndrome.
In honor of the 450,000 Americans living with Down Syndrome today, and their families, we bring you this episode.
- Nancy's heartbreaking story of "condolences instead of congratulations," and why she didn't accept it (5:23)
- The business model nobody thought would work (13:50)
- A reason to support acceptance that will make you stop and think (28:46)
- Why volunteers are thankful to help at GiGi's Playhouse (30:26)
FRANK BLAKE: Nancy, I'll just start out by asking you to tell us a little bit about GiGi and your family.
GIANNI: So GiGi is now 20. We started the first location right when she turned
one. She is amazing.
She's a public speaker. She works out every single day. She works hard, play hard just like her mama. And she sets goals. She accomplishes her goals. She has a boyfriend, she's in school, she is a sibling.
She has three siblings. I have three girls and one boy. And she's the youngest. And she definitely takes advantage of all of that and has learned all the good, the bad, and the ugly from them, which I love about her.
that people sometimes put our kids in a box of "they're just so sweet." You
could do anything to them.
Well, this is a sweet, sassy girl who has goals and that wants to be just like everybody else.
And she deserves to be like everybody else and she deserves to be accepted like everybody else.
BLAKE: So Nancy, you referenced that within a year you started the first GiGi's
Give our listeners a little bit of the background to that because just thinking about all of the activity involved and you have an existing family with three kids, that might not be the first thing that would pop into someone's head.
GIANNI: Well, there was so much negativity surrounding the diagnosis when she
Coming in, and I remember the doctor said, "Wow, you guys really shook this place up this weekend. If something like this can happen to you and Paul, it could happen to any of us."
And I'm like, "Something like what?"
This diagnosis, they really made me feel less than. They made me feel like she was less than and they made me... I remember thinking, I'm a really positive person and they are taking me down. How am I going to go home?
FRANK BLAKE: Wow.
NANCY GIANNI: Tell my kids that this is our new life, this is what we're going to be.
FRANK BLAKE: So everybody was around with long faces.
NANCY GIANNI: Oh my gosh they could-
FRANK BLAKE: And how are you going to deal with this?
NANCY GIANNI: I mean, there was condolences instead of congratulations.
ADRIENNE MULLIGAN: Condolences.
NANCY GIANNI: Yes.
ADRIENNE MULLIGAN: Condolences.
GIANNI: And I can't tell you, I think I had every clergyman come into my room
to pray with me and praying is so personal and it's so emotional.
And every time I kept thinking, is she dying? Why are we mourning this perfect life? And why isn't her life good enough? Why isn't she being celebrated like my other kids were being celebrated?
And it was really took getting her home and just getting out of that environment.
And they took good care of me medically, but they didn't have eye contact with me anymore. I was now that mom and that family, and I felt that and I was so afraid for my other kids and what that was going to feel like for them.
Because I was having such a hard time being that person and knowing the fear of the unknown.
know where this life is going to be and what's it going to do to my other kids
and getting her home and watching my other kids embrace her, like the beautiful
sibling that she was.
And then seeing she can do everything that they could do, it just took longer for her. Some of these things would take her longer but with help and intervention, she was going to do everything she needed to do.
And it was when she was still really young, I realized, you know what? We have to add some positive energy. We need a place to celebrate this diagnosis. We have to show the world the incredible beauty and potential of these kids in order for them to ever have a place in this world.
If they're going to continue to be not celebrated, I mean the termination rate of individuals with Down syndrome is over 80%. In some countries they're trying to eradicate Down syndrome.
you hear that diagnosis and know that everybody else chooses to not have this
in their life and to get rid of that, it really gives our kids a bad rap and it
gives the siblings a bad rap.
It's hard on everybody when people don't think our kids belong.
So I just wanted... I went to my first support group meeting and my brother Joe was like, "Don't go, don't go. You are the most positive person in the world. Do not go to this meeting."
I'm like, "Joe, I don't even know anything about this diagnosis. I have to go." And I went and it was in an extra room in hospital. We were pushed in a corner.
But you know what? The content of the meeting was good. It was the environment that brought people down. And I'm like, what if we can have a place where we celebrate? We celebrate these kids with this diagnosis.
that's when I started saying, I want it in a strip mall. I don't want you know, if we keep them in the church basement, it implies
that's where they belong, in the church basement. You know what I mean?
We need to put them out there.
We need to be at a place where they can open up dialogue to the typical population so kids can walk by and see these kids with Down syndrome, larger than life on the windows and kind of go, "Oh wow, I don't see that in my school because they're kept separate in school. I don't see them in places.
And open up dialogue, talk to mom and dad, walk in the doors and walk into just this.
I mean the playhouses, they're like Disneyland. When you walk in there, you feel nothing but empowerment and energy and you know you can accomplish your goals.
And that's what I wanted for GiGi. So I put it out there, I was like, I have to do it by October, is Down syndrome Acceptance Month.
And GiGi was a few months old and I said, "We're going to do it."
And I didn't know who was going to be at my opening. I knew my mom would show up and some of my neighbors.
I knew I'd have a couple of my friends, but we had over a thousand people show up for that opening at little strip mall?
FRANK BLAKE: Wow.
GIANNI: At that strip mall, there was this little strip mall taken by storm by
And my baby was a baby. I didn't know that many people. And think about this, Frank, we're talking 2003. So there wasn't internet, there wasn't... You know what I mean? There was internet, but there wasn't like it is today.
FRANK BLAKE: Right, right. It wasn't the same social network.
NANCY GIANNI: It wasn't the communication forums and the forums that there are today. So it was really word of mouth, getting it out there and making it happen, and then it just grew from there.
BLAKE: So before we get to the growth stage, because I'd love to talk about
that too, because 57, I mean, that's an amazing, that's got to be an amazing
But just pause for a second because I see as you're talking, Adrienne nodding her head. And I'm wondering is the experience the same?
Was it a similar path, a different path? Describe your and your family's situation, Adrienne.
MULLIGAN: So just one of our mottos goes, "We're the same but
Every family is the same but different. And every child born with Down syndrome is the same but different. So I would call it a similar reaction. We were surprised by the diagnosis at birth, and I honestly had no clue.
There was a tiny little inkling in my brain. I'm 39, this, that, and the other. Certain measurements in utero were slightly different from my two boys who were four and five years old.
FRANK BLAKE: So you had, as with Nancy, you had children already and-
MULLIGAN: Yeah. Yeah.
And I was angered in the hospital for a few reasons, and I don't get angry very easily. I'm a pretty, happy-go-lucky, pretty jolly person. It takes a lot for me to turn the worm and feel really feisty about something.
And I felt really feisty because Sara Kate was born and again, the long faces. Everybody's walking in, very sad. And I was looking at this beautiful creature and I could swear, I could see a halo around her head.
I mean she had jaundice, so maybe it was that, but I swear it was my own halo around her head. So I fell in love with her the second I laid eyes on her and I said, "She's got Down syndrome." And I had had a Caesarean, so she was kind of brought dramatically over a screen.
And everybody laughed including the surgeon and said, "No, she doesn't. She's beautiful."
kept saying, "I know she's beautiful and she has Down syndrome." And it took me eight hours to convince them to even send for the pediatrician
to do the testing.
My beloved in-laws who I absolutely adore were present and my husband was present, and they just kept you know, the swat. That's silly.
And so eventually, obviously we got the diagnosis and I remember just clutching her even closer to me and everybody else's heads went down that unfortunately I was right in my prediction.
And then I'm sitting there looking at this absolute beauty of a creature, and they started handing me all these pamphlets and none of them said Trisomy 21.
They all said eating problems for children with X, Y, Z disorder. A lot of kids with autism start up life and they have this problem with focus and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
So I kept looking at Paul and saying, "Paul, where's the sheet?" I was never a very good student. So I always relied on the cheat sheets and cliff notes and I'm like, "Where are my cliff notes and where are the cheat sheets?" And there wasn't one.
NANCY GIANNI: There wasn't.
BLAKE: Taking that as a cue, I want to switch back for a second to Nancy. I'm
still back at the thousand people showing up at the first GiGi's Playhouse and
what that experience was the first.
First off, how's the first one work? At what point are you through your first playhouse and say, gosh, this is really meeting a need. This is working.
NANCY GIANNI: I remember telling my husband, "Well, we can't charge for anything that we do." He was like, "What kind of business model is that?" I'm like-
FRANK BLAKE: That just what I was thinking.
GIANNI: Well, it is one that I can't tell you how many countless consultants
had told me wouldn't work over and over and over.
I could not find the believers that that this would work.
And 20 years later, I'm very proud to be saying that we have a $22 million not-for-profit organization that is run predominantly by, 99% by volunteers. And they are making it happen in their communities.
It's bringing in people like an Adrienne in Atlanta. When people come to us and they want to open a playhouse, they are the feet on the streets. They are the volunteers. They gather their community to come together to do just what I did in Chicago.
And they do that.
BLAKE: Describe for our listeners a bit what happens in a playhouse.
NANCY GIANNI: Magic.
FRANK BLAKE: Okay, all right. But what happens? What goes on during the day?
GIANNI: So the average age to have a child with Down syndrome is 28.
We have very young parents, first time parents, a lot of single mothers who aren't prepared for this. No one's prepared for the diagnosis. I can tell you that, you're never prepared for that diagnosis.
But they walk into a place where everybody believes in them. Everyone believes in their children, where their siblings are going to make lifelong friends.
We don't just serve the individual with Down syndrome, we serve the entire family and we actually serve the community.
we give the community a place to come in and volunteer. They in turn learn
about love and acceptance and they spread our mission of global acceptance.
So it's really a center for the entire community. We serve individuals with Down syndrome, but we give the community a place to serve. And that's huge. And a place to grow.
Because when you do that, they walk out of there, they don't only serve individuals with Down syndrome, they want to serve the world.
They want to make the world a better place because they see what happens in there.
BLAKE: So now yours, GiGi Playhouse is set up, you've been running for a couple
of years, and then do you say, "Gee, I think we ought to put up another
one somewhere else in Illinois?"
Or does someone call you, knock on your door and say, "Hey, I saw this. How does this work?"
GIANNI: Yes. We have never solicited an opening - people or community, they
come to us.
Because we can't, I can't assign somebody there to take on a task of serving your community with free programs and funding it all. You know what I mean?
Somebody has to come to me, with that investment in their heart and knowing the
people and gathering the right people.
So the model would never work if we were picking and choosing where we go.
We go where there's a community leader like Adrienne or anywhere like Adrienne, who then steps up in their community, rallies the forces, finds the place, raises the money.
The third phase of becoming a GiGi's Playhouse, when somebody comes to us, there's that first phase where they come and we have a formula.
Do you warrant a brick and mortar playhouse? Should you use our GiGi's at Home,
our virtual platform? What does that look like?
And then phase two is getting in there, rallying your community, building your board, getting people invested. And phase three is then where they become their own individual LLC.
So at that point they have access to all of our intellectual property, all of our curriculum, all of our templates, everything that we have from the marketing materials, everything that they need.
FRANK BLAKE: So Adrienne, what prompts you to get on a plane and go out to Chicago?
MULLIGAN: So there was kind of a nudge in my back from the folks who equally
believe in our kids at Emory. And I had started the foundation for simply an
informational push on early intervention.
And we have an app now, and we're on that campaign, very much on the sideline. But our whole foundation's purpose is to direct people to GiGi's. And that's what this crowd did for me at Emory University.
And I figured if they're directing me, they know what they're talking about. They're whole lives revolve around the study and research of Down syndrome.
So I got on the plane, I suckered two friends to come with me, and we walked into Hoffman Estates and, "Hi, I'm Nancy Gianni." Woo!
FRANK BLAKE: At this point, how many GiGi's Playhouses are there at this point?
ADRIENNE MULLIGAN: There were five at that time.
FRANK BLAKE: Just five? Just five.
ADRIENNE MULLIGAN: Yeah.
FRANK BLAKE: Okay.
MULLIGAN: And they were all in kind of the Chicagoland area.
So yeah, I'm really proud of the fact... And Nancy's going to laugh because she... What was the name of the machine you had to type out invitations on back in the day?
NANCY GIANNI: Oh that I was... Because I had never really used any software at that. I mean we're talking 2003, so remember that. At 2005.
ADRIENNE MULLIGAN: Bring us down memory lane.
NANCY GIANNI: I remember reading spiritual expressions. That was where, that was the only software package. I didn't know what Microsoft Office was. Like I didn't know anything.
ADRIENNE MULLIGAN: It didn't exist.
NANCY GIANNI: I created all of our marketing materials on American Greetings, create-a-card software.
FRANK BLAKE: That's great.
MULLIGAN: Back down to Atlanta, right?
So one thing that caught my eye when I was reading about the way they can help other families, was they described it back then as "who does it take? It takes a motivated group of parents to start."
And I was thinking, okay, I've started, I've met Nancy, I'm in. I've drank the juice. And I thought, okay, this is going to be difficult.
But back then it was really difficult because there was just skeleton everything and them trying to focus on the thriving of their five playhouses. And I think we were the first ones outside of Chicagoland, and we were these wild pack of cowboys down in Atlanta.
there was a lot of waiting for GiGi's approval in Chicago, which we've
nicknamed Inc. But it was worth it, it frustrating at the time.
And it started out with me sitting at my computer in the kitchen and then one by one-
GIANNI: You guys helped build the model. Each new location that opened, we
learn from. To this day at number 57.
But you think about number six, we learned a lot from opening a location that was 700 miles away from our national office where it was. So it, we've grown with each location.
We learned our fifth core value is locally concerned, enterprise minded. Meaning that you always learn. Anything that we learn, whether it's at Inc or at a location we share with everybody.
So we don't want people reinventing the wheel.
So whatever they were able to put into play, we want to replicate it at every location that's out there.
FRANK BLAKE: And Adrienne, how long before you said your Atlanta version was up and running and you felt comfortable that it was-
ADRIENNE MULLIGAN: It took about nine months later. What we did was, Sara Kate was about I think, gosh, she must have been eight months old, seven months old? And-
NANCY GIANNI: And she had two other boys at home while she's doing this, mind you. And she was running at her own foundation.
ADRIENNE MULLIGAN: And my husband was traveling 75% of the time.
FRANK BLAKE: Wow.
MULLIGAN: We were supposed to move with him. Atlanta was supposed to be a pit
But we fell in love with it going, "Oh, please God, bring us a reason why we can stay in Atlanta." And sure enough, little Miss is like, surprise. And the Emory Down syndrome clinic was there and we thought, okay, God, or whatever you believe in is really talking to us and we need to stay.
So my wonderful, wonderful husband and father of our kids said, "I'm going to do it. I'm going to commute." He was commuting to India and to China and South America, and it was really hard.
But every Friday he would come back and he was like Superman. He was like, "Come on. Okay, I'm in."
Everybody where he was dealing with was asleep, so he was all in and where I was kind of falling apart on Friday afternoons, he would rally us all, get to the park, we'd run the legs off of Sara Kate and the boys.
So it was definitely hard, but well worth it.
FRANK BLAKE: So Nancy, at this point with... First off, first question, how do you handle 57 locations? But second question, are there more requests coming in?
GIANNI: All the time. Yeah. And now our GiGi's at Home, our virtual playhouse
that we obviously had to create due to COVID was something.
I mean we were doing, I mean we were serving our families with free programs all week long, and then we canceled everything. COVID took everything down.
So 4,400 hours a week of free programming. 4,400 hours a week of free programming was happening network-wide the day that we had to shut down because of COVID.
So we had no choice but to open, create a virtual platform. Which we did. I'm going to say in 13 days before anybody else was out and doing things.
Schools weren't even starting and we were hitting it. We were like... But that was, that's our COVID silver lining because we are now serving families in 83 countries with our free programs.
So isn't that crazy, Frank? I mean it's a gift from, again, that was our COVID silver lining, a gift from God. And it's also, we've also been a very high tech, very entrepreneurial, not-for-profit all along.
We've had to be able to work remotely for years because our locations are all
across the country. So we had that, you know that... Where most
not-for-profits, aren't probably as tech savvy as we were.
We were building an LMS, we were building an app. We knew what we needed.
If we were going to continue to grow at the rate that we were, I mean we're growing at 35% a year. We were going to have to have a way to train all these volunteers, hundreds of thousands of volunteers.
We can't leave that on the local playhouses to be doing all that. So we've been using technology, we've been using everything we can, thank you, God, that have allowed us to continue to grow and give our playhouses what we need.
It's really crazy how we can scale now. When I think back, Adrienne, to like... When I look at the stuff that, like that you had, I mean girl, you were on your own trying to figure... I had have a brochure.
didn't have much back then. And when I look at where we are now and the
tenacity of you and every other founder who just go, we were in it because our
kids deserved it.
We were in it to empower others. We had to show the world that our kids belong here. And that was our goal. That was what we needed to do.
And like I said, GiGi's gets the individual Down syndrome ready for the world, but we needed to get the world ready for them. And that's still what we need to continue to do to this day because we're not there.
We are not at all close to where we need to be.
When you look at DEI and where we're at, people with disabilities are still being left behind, even though they are the largest marginalized group. The other ones give so much more attention because our kids aren't out there fighting for themselves.
They're just fighting to get by in everyday.
BLAKE: So if there was one thing that you wish people understood about those
living with Down syndrome, what would that be? Pose that question to both of
Nancy, what would that be?
GIANNI: Oh, for me it would be, I mean that people would understand that
there's so much more than a diagnosis.
See past what you see on their face and get to know the person that's under them.
The reason GiGi's is what it is today is because we have the gift of exposing people to the most incredible population of people in the world, and they change people.
The reason we continue to grow and do what we do is because when people get
exposed to amazing individuals that give so selflessly that are there to teach
us in this world, they grow.
Every volunteer who walks in, they walk out empowered and better.
realize that, you know what? God didn't give these kids the muscles that he
gave to me. I have all the tools. These kids have to teach their lives to do, to teach their bodies to do what
comes naturally to all of us.
And you know how they do it? They work hard every day. They do it with a smile and they serve others. And that's what I want people to know. They change lives by people just giving them a chance to meet them.
FRANK BLAKE: Wonderful.
MULLIGAN: And here's what I'd like them to know.
I always look at the five senses. And if one of them goes down, what happens? The rest of your senses really become focused and heightened. And we know that Down syndrome particularly affects the mid-brain.
And so we
know what happens in the mid-brain, and that's the processing, that's the
delay, that's the what's your name?
And I always hold my breath for people to just give my daughter that five seconds. Just give me a minute.
Because they go like this. What's your name? Is it Jill? Is your name Sue? And I just want to throttle them and go, "Could she just have a second?"
Now, my daughter's now very articulate now many years later, but I would like for people to know that they're in there and they are just like us.
go, "Oh, I hear that they get little boy-crazy in their teens." And I'm like, "Teens get boy and girl crazy in their teens. What are you
talking about?" Or their little boyfriend and girlfriend. I don't get
I want my daughter to have a boyfriend like GiGi does. I want her to have a partner, a companion, a husband, whatever suits her and her life goals.
But they're in there and back on my early intervention bandwagon with just a little bit of extra help and push and love along the way in the early years, they can have a normal and independent life.
They can. They can have a career. They can have a sense of belonging in the community, in their jobs with each other, largely due to GiGi's Playhouse.
BLAKE: This is terrific. And what you both do is so inspiring. And all the
folks associated with GiGi's Playhouse and your work, Adrienne. Is there
someone you turn to for inspiration?
Again, a question I'd ask both of you.
ADRIENNE MULLIGAN: Our daughters.
NANCY GIANNI: Good answer.
FRANK BLAKE: That's a great answer.
GIANNI: That is a, and she, yeah. You know how that is. They inspire us.
We're so blessed to have that gift to inspire us every day and to make us better every single day. I do have another...
Because I had heard your podcast and I know the different questions. And I do, I'm so blessed that when you think about differences, and some people they'll listen to this and say, oh, I don't really have somebody with Down syndrome in my life.
But what I want people to know is everybody in this, we are all seconds away from being different or loving someone who's different. So it could be the birth of a new baby, a grandbaby, a fall off of a bike, a debilitating illness, diagnosis.
Differences don't discriminate. And they are seconds away. And for me, the people that... It's people who step up who don't have those differences in their life.
Like one of my biggest donors who just... He gives because he wants the world to be a better place. So people who recognize that, you know what?
Hardship may not have hit me or a
difference may not have hit me, but I'm going to step in and help people that
Because I'm grateful for the life that I have today. So when you ask that question, I think of my donor, Vince Foglia, just a philanthropist.
He's an incredible businessman and someone who's never had Down syndrome or any developmental disability or anything in his life who still chooses to step up and help our kids.
Because it's hard to get that, it's harder from... I can't get it from corporate America. You would think after 20 years I would that, especially in this DEI time, that stuff would be so much easier. It's not.
People don't recognize our kids the way they should be. They're not hiring our kids the way that they should be. We don't have the place that we are for our kids.
So I would say I'm inspired by people who see everybody as deserving and everybody as equal.
MULLIGAN: And I'll add to that by saying on a similar vein, when I'm feeling a
little flattened and stretched thin, I look forward to the next board meeting.
The volunteers, they just fill my heart. I become buoyant. You cannot walk into a GiGi's Playhouse and leave the same person. Not the first time, not the hundredth time.
There's something hilarious. There's something emotional, every single time you walk in the door.
NANCY GIANNI: Every single time.
ADRIENNE MULLIGAN: Every single time.
FRANK BLAKE: That's true.
MULLIGAN: Someone's cracking you up and then someone's got a heartfelt moment.
So I think, Nancy, you're right, people that have no connection, that are directing their donations to us, it's so insanely flattering. And the volunteers who very often, Nancy, you said this in the very beginning, they come in and they thank us.
Thank you so much. Like they cry.
FRANK BLAKE: That's great.
ADRIENNE MULLIGAN: Thank you so much for this opportunity. You just think what? Thank?
NANCY GIANNI: We can't do it without you. Right. You're welcome. Yeah.
BLAKE: So I think you may have already answered this question, but phrase the
inspiration in a different way.
Who has done a crazy good turn for you? You are out doing crazy -
ADRIENNE MULLIGAN: I get to go first.
FRANK BLAKE: All right, Adrienne, that's great. You guys, you're in a world where you're doing crazy good turns for others, who has done a crazy good turn for you? Adrienne?
ADRIENNE MULLIGAN: I'm sorry. I'm going to go back to historical data, and this is going to sound corny because I love her like a sister, but Nancy Gianni.
NANCY GIANNI: Oh.
FRANK BLAKE: That's sweet. That's wonderful.
NANCY GIANNI: Stop.
FRANK BLAKE: That's wonderful. All right Nancy, that's a hard one to follow.
NANCY GIANNI: Right?
FRANK BLAKE: Who's done a crazy good turn for you? And that's a wonderful answer, Adrienne, thank you.
ADRIENNE MULLIGAN: Thank you.
GIANNI: It was an amazing answer. And you are a gift from God.
And that I do feel like, I think that when I think about these founders, these people that are in their own communities raising their own kids and want to change the world, not just for their child, but for their entire community.
I would say the crazy good turns would be these founders in these communities that step up every single day to serve our families with free programs, to give our kids a name in this world, to give them respect and acceptance and show that they belong.
I literally, like every time I go to a new opening, and Sacramento was our most recent opening, and I literally sit there and I'm in awe of these volunteers who have given up their lives to open this place to serve individuals with Down syndrome.
them free tutoring and literacy and math, free speech therapy, free fitness programs,
free career programs.
They're doing the impossible and those... The crazy good turns, I have so
much gratitude. I don't even know how I will ever be able to possibly ever thank not only the
people that step up and founded those locations, but all these volunteers who
keep it going.
It wouldn't work without them.
BLAKE: So I have two last questions. One is just a peculiar one of my own
So we're coming up in little while to World Down syndrome Day, which is celebrated on March 21st. So it's 3/21 to mark three copies of the 21st chromosome.
And is there something that GiGi's Playhouse does or that you all do as a special recognition for that day-
ADRIENNE MULLIGAN: Absolutely.
FRANK BLAKE: All right. Adrienne what is it?
ADRIENNE MULLIGAN: Well, so from a local level, I think this goes on across the board in our 83 countries. But for starters, that's when we choose to do our spring run, our fun run. And this fun run-
NANCY GIANNI: GiGi Fit Acceptance Challenge. Yep.
MULLIGAN: Yes. And it started out as a fun run. Now it's GiGi's Fit Acceptance.
But that talk about bringing a community together. So the volunteers are the... It's such a celebration of fitness, of health, of can-do. We have the kids all have their own little road race and that is just the sweetest thing. And so that's how we celebrate in Atlanta.
And then we'll always come up with a local event after the run or the fitness acceptance challenge. There's always little parties and celebrations, but I'm sure Nancy's got bigger and broader.
GIANNI: Well, no, exactly what she said. The GiGi Fit Acceptance Challenge
kicks off on 3/21. So the GiGi Fit Acceptance Challenge are, like she said in Atlanta. It's a fun
run. In Chicago, it's a 5K run.
At every different GiGi's location, they kick off an acceptance challenge where they challenge their community to step up for acceptance. It's a social and physical movement for acceptance and it's amazing.
So on that 3/21 that's our kickoff of our three month long 60-event campaign. And it's truly a gift from God. It started during COVID and it's something that we need to continue doing. We need to raise that awareness.
But also on that day, the locations, most of them have some form of open house or something inviting their community in. And if it falls during the week, they might do it on the weekend.
But the biggest gift we can get is for someone just to come in and have a tour. Come in and see what it's about. Bring your kids, let them ask the questions. It's okay.
There's no question that it will insult us because you are there for the right
reasons. They need to be able to ask.
Kids, when I see people's face sometimes and they look at GiGi and I see they look scared. I'm like, oh. Because they just haven't had the gift of exposure to individuals with Down syndrome.
So we would love on 3/21 for people to just go to your local GiGi's. Figure something out, join an acceptance challenge.
Even if you're going to do it virtually, there's something that could be done on 3/21 and in the Down syndrome world, whether it's you make a donation, you step into volunteer, or you join the GiGi Fit Acceptance Challenge.
Or you bring your kid for a tour. That anything that just brings some awareness to our amazing kids.
ADRIENNE MULLIGAN: I better quickly correct my myself or clarify that we... Before the board kills me. We started as a fun run and now we're very much an official qualifier race of 5K and 10K.
NANCY GIANNI: Yes you are. You guys have a great run in it. You guys are doing great in Atlanta.
FRANK BLAKE: Okay, good, good. That's terrific. So for everybody who's listening and they want to know more about what you all are doing or to help, what would you direct them?
NANCY GIANNI: Yeah, GiGisplayhouse.org. Just go to the website, you could see what we're all about. Everything is on there.
MULLIGAN: All the locations. Tap into one close to...
There's even a very, very handy map for anybody's listening. There's a very handy map to see geographically where are emerging markets.
That's that group of motivated parents, carers, community members. And it's a great way for you to feel overwhelmed to go, "God, I don't know if I can take this on. I can't get to carpool on time. I can't, how am I going to open a center?"
You might go, "Oh, 10 miles away. There's another... I can drive the 10 minutes instead of trying to reinvent the wheel or duplicate the wheel in my community."
But we do a really good job. Nancy, you know, it really... Congratulate our IT people. They do a really good job of updating. It's not easy because there's constantly, how many requests do we get in a week?
Like a hundred or so. There's just constantly. Constant.
GIANNI: Constant, yeah. It just never ended. And I'm so grateful for that because so much has happened in this world. Things
are different now.
And thank God we were able to pivot in the right way and grow during those times. Financially, we still went down a bit, but family-wise we kept growing.
Program-wise, we kept growing. So we're still playing a little bit of catch up, but we're growing in every other way.
BLAKE: Well, I cannot thank you enough for being willing to appear on this
podcast and more important, but thank you for what you do every single day.
Because it is a great thing you're doing not only for the children and families directly impacted, but as you said so well before, it's for all of us and it's important to all us. So thank you. Thank you for all that you do.
NANCY GIANNI: Thank you for having us. You've-
ADRIENNE MULLIGAN: Thank you too.
NANCY GIANNI: Putting the word out there is the most important thing that we can do for our kids. And if we're going to change the world, it's going to take each and every one of us. So thank you so much.
From Frank Blake
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