Denisse Jensen was immediately attracted to the mission of Gigi’s Playhouse.
“I don’t have a child with special needs,” Jensen said. “When I talked to moms that were starting GiGi’s several years ago, I was dumbstruck that there wasn’t a place like GiGi’s. There were moms and communities that felt left out and didn’t have a place. I said, ‘Sign me up.’ I wanted to show my kids what acceptance looks like for all.”
GiGi’s Playhouse provides educational and therapeutic programs at no charge to families in a format in which individuals with Down syndrome learn best.
Jensen, a Carmel resident who graduated from Carmel High School, has been executive director of the Indianapolis center since it opened in 2015.
As a nonprofit, donations are crucial. The 3.21 Run is GiGi’s second-largest fundraising event after its annual gala. With social distancing guidelines in place because of the coronavirus pandemic, the June 6 event has been converted to the Step to Accept Virtual Run-Walk-Ride.
Jensen set a goal of raising $50,000 through Step to Accept. As of May 27, approximately $40,000 has been raised. The 3.21 Run typically raises $60,000.
“We don’t want cost to limit participation,” she said. “Fundraising is critical for operations and to maintain our programs. We offer 30 different programs throughout the year.”
Step to Accept participants can track their steps with the Strava app, a fitness tracker designed to help them log their activity.
The goal is for participants to collectively walk, run or ride 50 million steps by event day while raising more than $2 million nationally. Registration is $21 for adults and $10 for children 12 and younger. To register, visit gigisplayhouse.org/steptoaccept/. To make a donation, visit support.gigisplayhouse.org/steptoaccept/team/gigis-playhouse-indianapolis.
Gigi’s Playhouse Executive Director Denisse Jensen said the center serves children and adults from more than 500 families in central Indiana. It’s continued to offer services virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We were the first Playhouse to pivot and create the idea GiGi’s At Home during the pandemic,” Jensen said. “We converted our programs virtually. We provided services to families in the rural areas that may not have been able to get to us.”
Jensen said she has replenished a lot of supplies she has given away in activity bags.
“When we open our doors, this virtual aspect is going to be part of our new normal because we still want to serve those (rural) families,” she said. “We’re helping our families stay connected, because during this pandemic, many of their therapies had to stop for a time. Different school districts weren’t able to get the academic materials needed for their children. GiGi’s Playhouse was still able to do our tutoring for literacy and do our educational program.
“We wanted to make sure we gave our kids the best resources so they are less likely to digress during this pandemic.”