Barrington 5K benefits Gigi’s Playhouse
Lauren Potter of "Glee"
GiGi’s Playhouse 9th Annual 5K Run and Walk
Sunday, June 10. Registration 7:30-8:30 a.m. 5K begins at 8:45 a.m. 1-mile walk immediately follows.
Advance fee $25; $35 day of race
Arboretum of Barrington, parking lot of Pinstripes, 100 W. Higgins Road, South Barrington
(847) 885-7529, email email@example.com or see www.gigisplayhouse.org
Updated: June 8, 2012 9:15AM
GiGi Gianni approached the podium, straightened her fancy dress, and pressed her palms firmly on the speech she had written to calm her nerves. Then she began to speak passionately about a subject close to her heart to more than 1,000 guests at the recent Chicago Cubs Bricks and Ivy Ball.
“I’m so proud of her; she’s a rock star,” said her mother, Nancy Gianni, founder and president of GiGi’s Playhouse Down Syndrome Awareness Centers. “Now she’s speaking for her and her friends, and that was my dream.”
That dream inspired this nine-year-old child born, with two holes in her heart and a genetic condition that gives her an extra 21st chromosome, to overcome many barriers academically and socially. Today she’s an advocate for her mother’s organization that serves thousands of children just like her.
Gianni estimates there are more than 400,000 children with Down Syndrome nationally. Fourteen GiGi’s Playhouses in the U.S. and Mexico offer 26 different programs free to children ages infant to adult for programs from purposeful play to individual tutoring to motor and social skills improvement, and help with literacy and math skills, all while instilling positive attitudes in both children and their parents.
GiGi’s Playhouses in Chicago, McHenry, Hoffman Estates and Fox Valley will be hosting their second largest fundraiser of the year this weekend with a 5K run Sunday, June 10, at 8:45 a.m. at the Arboretum of Barrington.
Gary Masching, new executive director of GiGi’s Playhouse, hopes to attract more than 2,500 runners and raise in excess of $100,000 for programming for the non-profit organization which is 96 percent volunteer-supported.
“This is really an important event to let them see our kids like to do the same things they like to do,” Gianni said, proudly stating the successes of her GiGi who loves to spell, knows 48 of her states, loves geography and science and even carries a dictionary and her iPad wherever she goes. “It’s a gift for us to invite families to come see what our kids are all about.”
Lauren Potter, star of the Fox television hit, “Glee,” will be on hand to promote awareness and support. Potter, 22, was also born with Down Syndrome and plays the role of Becky Jackson on the popular teen show now in its third season.
“[GiGi’s Playhouse] allows kids a chance to be who they want to be and they also work to help kids with their reading and other school subjects,” said Potter who was recently appointed to President Obama’s Commission on Intellectual Disabilities. She sees a bright future for children with Down Syndrome. “That they are given the chance to live and fulfill their dreams. I am one of at the lucky ones. It would be nice to think that everyone would have that chance.”
Gianni, a South Barrington mother of three other children as well, Isabella, 11, Franco, 15, Romina, 15, is grateful to have Potter on board to help promote the fundraiser.
“When I met Lauren Potter, I loved her spunk,” Gianni said. “We’ve got some amazing adults with Down Syndrome that represent the Playhouses and Lauren Potter brings a whole different demographic while seeing the beauty and positive side of it. Lauren is a great role model for that.”
Building positive attitudes is one of Gianni’s goals while instilling pride in new parents of Down Syndrome children who may otherwise be filled with sadness and worry.
“We empower them in the first visit, taking away the fear, and helping them see the potential in the kid. Knowing they can do it, we’ll give them the tools and help them along,” Gianni said. “I’m a very positive person, but what if you are not? If you start with pride, you have a completely different outlook that can change the course of that child’s life.
“Changing perceptions is huge, and so is believing,” Gianni added. “Our motto is to educate, inspire and achieve; it’s so powerful when you believe in someone you can create change.”