Down Syndrome Achievement Center Coming to West Side

Missy Gibel, with her husband, John, and children Jack and Maggie at the GiGi's Playhouse Cleveland "Believe in our Build" gala in May.

Nothing can prepare a parent for those fateful words: “Your child has Down syndrome.” You are hit by a wave of emotions - fear, sadness, and uncertainty. The questions of what this diagnosis means for your life, your family, and your future invade your every thought. All of it blurs in your head.

The reality is that individuals with Down syndrome can learn to walk, talk, read, work and live rewarding and more independent lives than ever before, just on their own timeline.

When you Google “Down syndrome Cleveland,” you will find something new and exciting and hopeful - “Location in the works - Cleveland - GiGi’s Playhouse Down Syndrome Achievement Center” with a link to This center is sure to change lives for the better in Northeast Ohio, home to over 900 families with a child with Down syndrome.  

GiGi’s Playhouse is a one-of-a-kind center offering educational, therapeutic and career-building programs free of charge to individuals with Down syndrome, their families and the community at large. GiGi’s is for all ages, with more than 30 programs aimed at advancing literacy and math skills, improving gross and fine motor skills, building self-confidence and preparing for the workforce.

In a day when inclusion is a hot topic in the special needs world, GiGi’s is designed to empower kids and adults with Down syndrome to take the skills they learn at the Playhouse out into their communities. GiGi’s does not replace school or traditional one-on-one therapies, but gives individuals an extra dose of strength to participate with their typical peers not only in the classroom, but also on sports teams, in the dance or art studio, and in the workforce.

Thanks to a dedicated team of family members, GiGi’s Playhouse Cleveland, the first in Ohio, will be located in Lakewood at 15316 Detroit Road (across from the Lakewood Library). President, Megan Lodge, states, “We are thrilled to be part of such an accepting, vibrant and growing community. Lakewood has embraced GiGi’s with open arms.”

The center will have only one employee, the Site Coordinator, thus making volunteers the heart of the Playhouse. Volunteers are needed to welcome guests, clean toys, snuggle babies and prepare snacks. Professionals such as special educators, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists and behavioral therapists are also needed to run programs.

Cleveland Startup Committee Leader, Missy Gibel, states, “I personally look forward most to GiGi’s one-on-one literacy and math tutoring for my daughter Maggie because these programs are designed for how Down syndrome individuals learn best. The sibling group is also important to me to help Maggie’s younger brother, Jack, know he is not alone.”

Gibel and her husband, John, first learned about GiGi’s Playhouse in Chicago where Maggie was born. When they visited the original GiGi’s location in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, they were hooked. “When we decided to move home to Cleveland, we knew one day we wanted to open a Playhouse here. It is a unique place where people can go to see what Down syndrome is and, maybe more important, what Down syndrome isn’t.”

Construction on GiGi’s Playhouse Cleveland is expected to begin in October with a projected grand opening in January 2016. Its Build-Out Bonanza campaign aimed at securing building materials, toys, furniture and more is going on now. As a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, GiGi’s relies on the generosity of private donors, corporate sponsorships and grants. For more information, visit or Facebook (GiGi’s Playhouse Cleveland).

Missy Gibel

Missy Gibel is the Startup Committee Leader and Fundraising Chair for GiGi's Playhouse Down Syndrome Achievement Center - Cleveland. She and her family live in Westlake.

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Volume 3, Issue 4, Posted 4:02 PM, 10.06.2015