Fundraising efforts are underway to open the first Gigi's Playhouse in Maryland by next year.
There are more than 30 Gigi's Playhouses across the country, but none in Maryland. The first one would be located in Annapolis. Gigi's is an achievement center for children with Down Syndrome and offers a number of programs and therapies.
"[The programs] are educationally-based, therapeutic-based," said Anna Nardone Hayden, co-leader of the campaign to bring Gigi's Playhouse to Annapolis. "They can also be health-oriented and they may just be social."
Nardone Hayden is very excited about bringing a Gigi's Playhouse to the state. Her daughter Kate, 7, has Down Syndrome.
"It’s a dream come true that we’ll be able to provide something like this for Kate," she said. "I feel like this will be an excellent resource for us. It will be a great way for her to receive additional services beyond her occupational therapy and her speech therapy that she receives outside of school."
Andrea Dantinne is learning the ropes of having a child with Down Syndrome. Nineteen months ago, she and her husband welcomed their third child Parker, who was diagnosed with the genetic disorder at just 16 weeks old.
"It was difficult when we first found out," Dantinne said. "We didn't know what to expect, what Down Syndrome meant. He is one of the best things to ever happen to us, he’s our little gift."
Dantinne says having other families to turn to is key when raising a child with a disability. She says the Anne Arundel County community is very supportive of people with Down Syndrome and she's eager to have Gigi's Playhouse come and raise more awareness about the genetic disorder.
"It’s going to help bridge the gap between kids with Down Syndrome and other typical children," she said.
"It will create awareness, it will break down barriers and misperceptions and create understanding about people who have Down Syndrome," Nardone Hayden said. "And the capabilities that they have and the opportunities that are available to them now."
Nardone Hayden and Dantinne are helping to organize a kickoff fundraiser to raise the money needed to open and sustain a Gigi's Playhouse. "Believe in Our Build" is Saturday July 23 at Sheehy Lexus in Annapolis. To purchase a ticket, click here.