In early February, we traveled to Atlanta to see old friends and attend the “i have a voice” Annual Gala benefiting Gigi’s Playhouse Atlanta.
GiGi’s Playhouse Atlanta is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing resources, therapeutic classes, specialized teaching and support to families of T21 (Trisomy 21/down syndrome). Everything at GiGi’s Playhouse is FREE: occupational and physical therapy, tutoring and family support.
This event is so important to us because we are there to support those old friends I was telling you about and their son Will. And, might I add that he was the face of the gala this year!
Face of the gala showing while Mayor of Atlanta, Kasim Reed spoke.
The gala is always so much fun and eye opening! I particularly love hearing the speakers so openly share their stories. Zack, our friend, who is on the Annual Gala Board and Committee spoke last year and he literally brought the house down! Check out his overwhelming speech at the link below. He was incredible as he stood up there and so honestly poured his heart out to the guests about the hope that Gigi’s Playhouse gave their family.
Warning: You will need tissues!!
Casie was so generous to let me do this interview with her. We have known each other for almost 13 years (wow, that makes me feel old). We met early on in our freshman year of college and immediately had a connection. There are just some people that happens with and she and I just clicked. It can’t go without mentioning that we were blessed with an awesome group of friends that over all the time that has passed, moving to different cities and through many changes have remained in each other’s lives.
It was such a coincidence when Casie called me to tell me she was pregnant and I responded with “ME TOO!!!” We were almost the exact same weeks along and so we “grew” together over the next thirty some odd weeks. Having someone understand just how you were feeling was incredibly amazing for both of us. It helped us get through all the ups and down, days we felt good and days we felt bad during our pregnancies. She ended up delivering Will 12 days before I delivered Everett (almost two years ago)!!! When he arrived, they were informed that God had dealt their family a hand that included more of a blessing than they had first realized. They were told Will was born with Down’s Syndrome. All else healthy, he was just born with an extra chromosome.
So, each year we will continue to attend the gala and support such a worthy cause that will help Will reach his full potential!
Enjoy reading more about their family!
Tell us a little about your family.
Our immediate family consists of my husband and myself, Will, Lucky (our beloved lab) and Ella Ann who is due to make her appearance this May. Outside of our growing family, we have a huge extended family which includes the most supportive, loving grandparents, tons of siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins who all adore Will more than we could have ever imagined. We’ve also been blessed with the most incredible friends (like you and David!) and therapists who we consider to be part of our family as well. We would never be where we are today without each of these individuals. Not only have they been monumental to our positive attitudes and acceptance of this extraordinary life we’ve been given as well as Will’s development and incredible progress, but they’ve kept us laughing throughout this journey.
Some of that wonderful fam she speaks of!
What are some of your favorite places to go in Atlanta with Will?
Our favorite place to take Will is conveniently located right down the street from our house! We make frequent trips to Roswell park to walk the trail and play on the playground. Will loves listening to music while we stroll on the path (he enjoys his mom’s variety of songs and dances during his favorites) and swinging on the swings. He’s also fascinated with animals so we always make it a point to go to the aquarium and the zoo several times throughout the year. He has perfected the “scary” sound whenever he sees a lion or tiger. It’s adorable and hilarious.
What is one memory that stands out in your mind about Will or becoming a mom?
Becoming a mom was a much more frightening and complicated experience than I had anticipated. I had confidence in my abilities as a mother and taking care of a baby but was not at all prepared for something to be “wrong” with my precious child whom I had anticipated and envisioned for nine months. My husband and I were heartbroken and beyond overwhelmed upon hearing Will’s diagnosis. Sadly, we had only been exposed to the negative connotations that come with down syndrome and didn’t know much about it. Which brings me to my first memory of Will. As soon as I laid eyes on him, I played the part of the doting new mom on the outside, but on the inside I was in a full panic. I immediately knew something wasn’t right. But Will, he knew everything was perfect from the start. He was exactly where he was supposed to be. He calmed as soon as he got into my arms and stared at me with his huge blue eyes. I was his mommy and he was completely relaxed and peaceful to finally be with me. While I was analyzing his every feature and while my hope that his swollen, slanted eyes and folded ear were just the aftermath of a long trip down the birth canal and not an indication of an extra chromosome continued to slip out of the delivery room window, Will snuggled further and further into my body. He knew exactly what was happening and he was in the initial phase of healing his mom’s heart. By the time we left the hospital three days later, we were under Will’s trace and more in love with him than we ever thought possible. It was Will who showed us the way and put our hearts back together. He continues to do this today, charming everyone he sees and making it impossible not to fall in love with him.
What does Will participate in at Gigi’s Playhouse and how has it been helpful to him and your family?
Will attends the group therapy sessions at the playhouse on occasion and has just started a one-on-one speech tutoring program. The sessions are incredibly helpful, and we always leave with new tips and exercises to try with him at home. More than anything though, the people we have met through the playhouse have been the most helpful for our family. We’ve not only made a ton of new, wonderful friends but we’ve also found our therapists who work with Will today through the people at the playhouse. Everyone at the playhouse shares the mentality that our children can do anything and the sky’s the limit for them.
What is the money raised at the “i have a voice” gala specifically used for & how can people support Gigi’s Playhouse if they are interested?
The annual “i have a voice” gala is the major fundraiser for the Playhouse. The funds raised at the gala allow GiGi’s to offer its services 100% free to its families for the year. Each Playhouse operates on a very lean budget, with just one full-time employee. Everything is made possible by the generosity of our volunteers and contributors. The Playhouse provides literacy programs, physical, occupational, and speech therapies, family support, and numerous social events. With one in 691 babies born with T21, multiple Playhouses are needed in the Southeast. In addition to funding its annual operating costs, the goal of the Gala is to raise enough support to fund future Playhouses to serve those who can not make it to the midtown Atlanta location.
Gigi’s is always looking for more help through volunteers or donations. You can read more about ways to help on their website http://gigisplayhouse.org/.
What is the one thing you have discovered as a parent to a child with down syndrome that you hope to communicate with others?
The one thing I would most like to communicate is that down syndrome is not a bad thing. In fact, it is the most beautiful thing to have ever happened to our family. Will has taught us in two years what some people don’t have the chance to learn in a lifetime. Yes, it comes with some extra work but it pays off ten fold when you see your child master something he’s been relentlessly working on for months. We’ve never been scared of hard work in this family, so Will fit in perfectly. To see an individual with down syndrome is to see pure joy, unconditional love, not an ounce of judgment, and what life is all about. Will has made us all better people and one would be lucky to have someone with down syndrome in his/her life.
As Will approaches his 2nd birthday, how will you celebrate?
With family, cake, and cars! All of my sweet boy’s favorite things…