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GiGi's Playhouse to Open in Oak Forest

GiGi's Playhouse, a business designed to help educate and enrich the lives of children and adults with Down Syndrome hopes to open in September 2013. Santa will stop in for a dinner and a visit Dec. 9.

When Nancy Gianni's daughter, GiGi, was born, doctors knew there was something different about her. An hour after her birth, doctors diagnosed GiGi with Down syndrome. While new challenges arose for Nancy, GiGi and the rest of the Gianni family, Nancy wasn't going to let her brood face them lying down.

Driven by her new daughter's struggles and wanting to form a place where parents, children and families touched by Down syndrome could gather, learn and grow, Nancy started GiGi's Playhouse, an awareness center in Hoffman Estates.

That was nine years ago. Now GiGi's Playhouse has expended to 14 locations across the globe—including one coming to Oak Forest.

Driving the creation and development of the Oak Forest location is Diane Husar. Husar, who like Gianni has a child with Down syndrome, said that her hope is to one day have a place where her son and others affected by Down can not only learn, but hang out and grow as people, too.

“Each GiGi's offers what the community needs,” she said. “From reading and math tutoring to physical therapy. I'm trying to get the GiGi's open now so that when my son is an adult, he can go there with his friends and hang out. So that, he and others can have somewhere safe to be.”

From what she has seen and heard in Oak Forest, the community is fully backing the effort to get the latest GiGi's off the ground. She pointed to a recent paint party as an example of just what the GiGi's effort means to the city.

“It started out as a very personal goal because of my son,” she said. “But, we had a paint party on Sunday and literally over 30 people came out, they just kept coming in the door. … It was so amazing, they just kept coming, we just kept painting more and more rooms. It was just amazing.”

Husar said that GiGi's Playhouse will offer classes, activities and physical therapy free of charge to guests, with all costs paid through fundraising and donations.

“There's no membership fee, no dues, no charge for classes,” she said. “It's all fundraising, personal donations and things like that.”

Husar said she hopes the Oak Forest location will open in September 2013. She added that the biggest hurdle was finding a space to house the location, something that Mayor Hank Kuspa assisted with. Kuspa donated the location of the GiGi's Playhouse and that another of his ideas will be used for the next GiGi's fundraiser on Dec. 9.

“Our mayor attended a board meeting and we were brainstorming fundraiser ideas and he said he'd been Santa for the last 32 years,” she said. “So, we thought, why not do 'Supper with Santa'? So, that's how we came up with the idea.”

The Supper with Santa event will take place Dec. 9, from 2 to 6 p.m. At the GiGi's Playhouse location, 5400 W. 159th Street. Houser said the event will feature food, soda, activities for children, singing and stories. The cost for the event is $10 per person, with children under 5 free.

For more information about GiGi's Playhouse in Oak Forest, visit their Facebook page.

Darnell November 21, 2012 at 03:13 PM
Finally, something TRULY worthwhile opening in Oak Forest for a change. Good luck and success to you!
Mike Ziak November 21, 2012 at 10:13 PM
While its great that a center like this is opening in our town, just what exactly did the Mayor 'donate"? That address seems to point to the church property that was purchased by the City.
Bobby Budnick November 23, 2012 at 10:42 PM
doesnt the city council need to discuss and vote on this before we just give away a one million dollar piece of property bought with taxpayers money? We are hurting for business and money and Hank just gives it away? So much for reinvesting in the our city. Also why is it only mike and I are asking questions about this?
Tired of the B.S. November 23, 2012 at 11:19 PM
Did Mayor Kuspa purchase the property before he donated it? I thought that property was owned by the city. Did I miss the council meeting where donating this property was voted on? How about an explanation for the real owners of this property, the taxpayers!
Lauren Traut (Editor) November 23, 2012 at 11:21 PM
Great questions, guys. We will get you the answers as soon as City Hall re-opens on Monday.
Sue1 November 28, 2012 at 12:52 AM
Ok Lauren, it's Tuesday, what did you find out? This is incredible! Can he legally do this? I don't think it is accurate to say the community supports the idea. Maybe supports the facility, but not donating the property. Nice economic development!
Jeff Graveline November 28, 2012 at 12:57 AM
Sue1 and Tired of the BS, I've reached out to Adam Dotson, Community Development Director, about the matter and have not heard back from him. However, I will be at the Oak Forest City Council meeting tonight and will speak with Mayor Kuspa and Mr. Dotson and will have an answer for you tonight on the matter. Thanks for the questions. - Jeff Graveline Oak Forest Patch
Jeff Graveline November 28, 2012 at 03:25 AM
Sue1 and Tired of the BS, I spoke with Mayor Kuspa. The property is currently being used by GiGi's free of charge. However, there is a new agreement with the city and a commercial developer to try and bring in retail development to the location. If and when development does take place, GiGi's will be forced to move from the location, as they do not have a lease with the city. Hope this answers your questions. Thanks again. - Jeff Graveline Oak Forest Patch
Mike Ziak November 28, 2012 at 01:59 PM
Jeff, I hear what your saying, but why doesn't the original article state that? Also, if you look at GiGi's Facebook page, they make reference to the site being their permanent home. The original article also makes a reference about the OF site to be operational by September 2013. If there is a developer looking at the property, was GiGi's promised a space in there? There's some inconsistencies here that dont add up.
Hamish November 28, 2012 at 02:04 PM
I need a place to hold a fund raiser for a good cause can i use the property??? Of course not.
Tired of the B.S. November 28, 2012 at 03:19 PM
Jeff, Where does it say that the mayor has the authority to use city property as he sees fit? The mayor does not own this property, the city does, and to allow it to be used, free of charge, without the approval of the city council seems like it some kind of backroom deal was made between the mayor and the folks at Gigis. I wonder how potential developers will look at this arrangement when they are considering investing on this property. I would think that most would not want to be the guys that kicked out the Downs Syndrome charity house.

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