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GiGi’s Playhouse, Pride Plumbing partner on job readiness training

GiGi’s Playhouse Rochester has partnered with Pride Plumbing to provide an innovative program that provides professional work experience to teens and adults with Down syndrome.

Ready. Set. Work is a free program that will be held every Monday beginning Sept. 20 and running through Dec. 6 at GiGi’s Playhouse on North Goodman Street. Ready. Set. Work helps engage GiGi’s young adults who are 16 years old or older by providing them with hands-on experience that marketing professionals are responsible for, while also demonstrating their capabilities to be productive members of the workplace, particularly when provided with the proper training support, encouragement and opportunity.

“Our pilot program was very successful in engaging young adult participants and providing them with insights on the day-to-day tasks our marketing professionals complete,” said Jeff Donlon, GiGi’s board member and partner at Catapult Solutions Group.

The program is led by Meghan Cacchione, Pride Plumbing’s marketing and communications manager, and will focus on customer service skills including inbound and outbound phone calls, creating and scheduling appointments, requesting feedback and responding to positive and negative feedback.

GiGi’s Playhouse Rochester plans to develop more programming focused on career skills and professional development targeting young adults with Down syndrome regardless of their ability to break down barriers and bring awareness that people with Down syndrome can be valuable additions to the workforce.

Companies interested in partnering with GiGi’s in future work experience programs can contact Donna Rush at [email protected]. Registration for the program can be found at

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
Follow Velvet Spicer on Twitter: @Velvet_Spicer

Gigi’s Playhouse to hold virtual fundraising gala

Gigi’s Playhouse Rochester will hold its annual fundraising gala virtually this year. The theme is “I Have a Voice Reimagined.”

The nonprofit Down syndrome achievement center will hold the event on Saturday, March 20. GiGi’s hopes to raise $75,000 at the Gala, which will support free programming for people with Down syndrome in the Rochester region.

The event will feature special guests, inspirational stories and live and silent auction items. Rather than purchasing tables, online attendees can host private “watch parties” in their homes, such as date night, family night, girls’ night or pajama parties, with the theme, decor and refreshments of their choice, as well as refreshments provided by GiGi’s.

GiGi’s is revealing an exclusive beer brewed by Rochester’s Sager Beer Works. T21 IPA will feature three parts malts, two parts hops and one part yeast, honoring the three copies of chromosome 21 that occurs when a person has Down syndrome.

Sager’s newest brew will be available to pre-order and pick up in conjunction with the Gala beginning on March 20. Four-packs can be purchased for $20, and Sager will donate $3 to GiGi’s for every four-pack purchased.

“This year’s gala will give participants and their families a voice and let our community know what GiGi’s means and has done for them during these unforgettable times,” said Jennifer Bustamante, GiGi’s Playhouse Rochester president. “With technology, we are still able to celebrate our achievements and our vision for programs. Several sponsorship opportunities are available that include delivery of great food and drinks to enjoy with your guests at the event you create. It all supports the work we do to enrich the lives of people with Down syndrome.”

Last year’s annual gala was canceled due to the pandemic. Roughly 500 people were expected to attend the sold-out event.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
Follow Velvet Spicer on Twitter: @Velvet_Spicer

Gigi’s Playhouse receives L3Harris grant

Gigi’s Playhouse Rochester has received a $25,000 Social Impact Grant from L3Harris Technologies Inc. to support math education for school-aged children with disabilities who have been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The math sessions will be offered throughout the year and are free to all participating GiGi’s families.

“Children with disabilities have been at a significant disadvantage during the COVID-19 pandemic because they tend to rely on direct, hands-on and individualized instruction to attain their academic goals,” said GiGi’s Playhouse Rochester president Jennifer Bustamante. “To fill this gap, GiGi’s is offering an in-person educational program for individuals with Down syndrome, with a focus on children who are attending full-time or part-time remote schooling in their school districts.”

A key focus area of the math programs will be parental involvement and support. GiGi’s will provide each parent with an introductory set of math manipulatives and will give each parent a guide on specific activities that can be done at home to support the lessons that are taught at the Playhouse.

“The L3Harris Technologies grant will help support the math component of our educational program. Many individuals with Down syndrome struggle with math because they have significant deficits in their working memory and the abstract nature of math relies on a strong working memory,” Bustamante said.

Working memory is the “workspace” where individuals keep information during processing or manipulation and it plays an essential role in mathematical learning, even in the most basic mathematical functions as comparing numbers and one-to-one correspondence and counting.

“Despite their challenges with working memory, individuals with Down syndrome tend to have very strong visual-spatial short-term memory, making the ability to learn from visual information a relative strength,” Bustamante added.

GiGi’s in-person educational programs – including math and literacy – will also serve a secondary target population of teens and adults with Down syndrome who were not given adequate learning opportunities when they were younger. Each student will have an instructional volunteer who has received training from a special education teacher.

“While shifting to online work is safer, we are seeing more and more students being impacted by inequities in educational access,” said L3Harris Community Affairs Director Erica Lemp. “GiGi’s Playhouse has continued to provide literacy programs, tutoring resources, language skills and one-on-one opportunities to keep students engaged throughout the pandemic. We applaud GiGi’s Playhouse and their impact on the community and the students they serve.”

GiGi’s Playhouse Rochester is a non-profit that serves people with Down syndrome from prenatal diagnosis to adulthood focusing on achievement, belief and confidence. Open since 2017, it is part of GiGi’s Playhouse network of 48 Down Syndrome Achievement Centers in the United States and Mexico — the only network of its kind that provides free, life-changing therapeutic, educational and career training programs for more than 30,000 individuals of all ages.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
Follow Velvet Spicer on Twitter: @Velvet_Spicer