Gigi’s Playhouse in Fox Point, Wisconsin is providing valuable support to individuals with Down syndrome in their community through a new life skills class. Created in partnership with graduate students at Mount Mary University, the program focuses on helping participants live independently by teaching them job skills, how to find housing, and how to balance a budget, among other things.
Graduate students Zeki AbuLughod and Morgan Precour taught the twelve-week course this summer, which they called “Gigi’s Prep.” The course fills a need for many adults with Down syndrome by equipping them with the skills they need to thrive:
“The direct application of what we are doing is very validating…being able to facilitate programs that help them with that transition [into adulthood], is super awesome to be a part of.”
Their students are already putting their new skills to use— participant Emily Keller found her first job at a local school shortly after completing the course! She says:
“I like the life skills a lot. It’s nice to be able to do things…by myself.”
Part of a national network, Gigi’s Playhouse in Fox Point is almost entirely run by volunteers, and serves over 400 local families with free services including tutoring, speech therapy, and fitness classes. While it offers programs for all ages, its most active participants are adults.
Sara Van Deurzen, director of operations and the only full-time employee for the nonprofit, was excited to see the success of the course:
“It’s stuff we’ve wanted to do forever but just haven’t had the manpower, really. It’s being part of the community, learning the skills, having the confidence to go out there and do it.”
This is one of the first Gigi’s Playhouse programs created in partnership with a local university. Gigi’s Playhouse will soon be offering art and music therapy through a similar alliance with Carroll University. The center hopes to continue to use and expand this format to benefit both graduate students and individuals with Down syndrome.