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GiGi's Playhouse education center in McHenry celebrates World Down Syndrome Day

McHENRY – For Crystal Lake resident Allison Mueller, Tuesday marks an important day. Tuesday is World Down Syndrome Day.

Mueller said she found out her daughter, Hope, was going to have Down syndrome – a condition that results from an individual having a third copy of chromosome 21 and causes intellectual disabilities – before she even was born. After hearing the news, Mueller went online and started researching the condition.

“I didn’t know anything about it before I started looking it up on the internet,” Mueller said. “That’s when I found GiGi’s Playhouse.”

GiGi’s Playhouse McHenry County, 5404 W. Elm St. A, McHenry, is one of many nonprofit educational centers nationwide that provides resources, specialized teaching and support to individuals with Down syndrome, their families and the community.

On Saturday, the nonprofit in McHenry held a special event to celebrate World Down Syndrome Day and educate people on what Down syndrome is. Saturday’s celebration saw more than 70 attendees and consisted of games, crafts, dancing and dinner.

“It’s just a positive event to help bring awareness to the community,” Mueller said. “People don’t realize someone with Down syndrome can have a typical, healthy life still until they have a place like GiGi’s educate them about the condition.”

Site director Jean Boyle said Saturday’s event celebrated both World Down Syndrome Day and the nine-year anniversary of the McHenry location’s opening.

“We’re on a mission for a global change that offers free, therapeutic and educational programs that are specifically designed for individuals with Down syndrome and their families,” Boyle said. “We also focus on acceptance, because acceptance is the key to everything. We want people with Down syndrome to be included in their school and in their community, so GiGi’s is the step to help folks understand they’re just like everybody else.”

Boyle said the facility sees about 40 to 50 people a week and serves about 200 families in McHenry County. Being a nonprofit, GiGi’s in McHenry is funded solely through donations and has about a $100,000 operating budget a year.

“I was so thankful when I was able to find one in our area,” Mueller said. “… Knowing that there was a place to go with resources and people to meet was just a pretty amazing thing to know when you’re facing something pretty unexpected.”

Mueller said her daughter is doing literacy tutoring at GiGi’s to help her learn how to read.

GiGi’s Playhouse McHenry County is regularly open Mondays through Fridays and hosts special programs Saturdays.

To learn about Down syndrome, call the educational center at 815-385-7529.

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