Interview by Wendy Slaton • Photos by Heart & Lens Photography
Sarah Stanfield was first introduced to Gigi’s Playhouse in 2015, after the birth of her second daughter, Lily who was born with Down syndrome. A friend introduced her to the founding president of GiGi’s Playhouse Sugar Land, whose daughter also has Down syndrome. After visiting the grand opening of Gigi’s Playhouse, Sarah and her family quickly found a network of families walking a similar path and fell in love with the mission of GiGi’s Playhouse. Today, Sarah serves as President of the Board.
Tell us a little about yourself
I grew up about an hour outside of Houston in East Bernard and attended and graduated from Texas A&M University. As a college student I was fortunate to intern with Make-A-Wish Texas Gulf Coast, where it sparked my interests for non-profits. Professionally, I am an Assistant Vice President with Sirius America Insurance Company. My husband, Craig, is a Partner in the Litigation Group with King & Spalding, LLC. We are the proud parents of Lucy (who just started kindergarten) and Lily.
What is GiGi’s Playhouse?
GiGi’s Playhouse Sugar Land is just one of 38 Down Syndrome Achievement Centers across the U.S. and Mexico – and the only location serving greater Houston. The mission of GiGi’s Playhouse is to change the way the world views Down syndrome through national campaigns, educational programs, and by empowering individuals with Down syndrome, their families and the community. GiGi’s Playhouse offers free purposeful therapeutic and educational programming to individuals with Down syndrome and their families
What I love about our operations and missions is that we serve individuals birth through adulthood, so it is a place that will always be a part of our family’s life and we get to spend time with families ahead of and behind us on this journey. It is a beautiful thing to see a mom with a newborn walk in for our LMNOP program and be greeted by our adults in GiGi Prep, the first phase in our career readiness program, GiGi U. Additionally, all of programs are FREE. We believe cost should not be a barrier achievement. Our Sugar Land location opened in December 2015 and by the end of 2016, we were busting at the seams. We were fortunate that the building next door was available, and we were able to take over the lease. This allowed access to private, one-on-one tutoring rooms, a small but full kitchen to teach cooking skills, a classroom for our GiGi Prep program, and an open room for gross motor and exercise programs. While this has helped tremendously, being in two separate buildings is not ideal for our staff or families and the room sizes are smaller than we need given our growth. The hope is to move to a larger space that better suits our needs. I view this as a good problem to have, because it means families are finding value in our programming.
What advice can you share with new parents?
The first thing I always like to tell new parents is CONGRATULATIONS, you often don’t hear that with a Down syndrome diagnosis. My best advice is to expect that they will do and accomplish things just like typical children. It may be at their own pace, but that will make the journey that much more exciting. Lily is by far my most treasured, unexpected blessing. She has changed me and our family for the better and I firmly believe that the world has not fully seen all that individuals with Down syndrome have to offer our communities.
In addition to Gigi’s Playhouse, can you share other helpful resources?
Many times, other families are going to be the best resource, but, of course, living in Houston we have access to wonderful medical care, including the Down Syndrome Clinic at Texas Children’s Hospital, and other organizations and resources like The Rise School of Houston, the Down Syndrome Association of Houston, The Arc of Houston and Fort Bend County. Additionally, I have enjoyed learning from national organizations like the National Down Syndrome Congress through attending their annual convention. And we are hopeful that before year end our friends with GiGi’s Playhouse Houston will open their doors in the Heights area providing families in other parts of the greater Houston area a more convenient GiGi’s Playhouse to them.
Tell us about Lily and her favorite programs at GiGi’s
Lily simply put is a joy. Yes, she has a full range of emotions like all toddlers (trust me!), but overall, anyone who has the opportunity to spend time with Lily, you experience her genuine sense of joy and love! She is also a very capable little girl, who loves to learn and play, and steal her sister’s snacks and toys! Lily is so fully loved, celebrated and accepted at GiGi’s Playhouse, where she’s been attending programs there since she was seven months old. Lily loves that siblings are included in group programs and that her big sister, Lucy, gets to join in all the purposeful play right alongside her. Her favorite program is probably music therapy hosted by Ms. Veronica with the Music Therapy Center Houston, and some of our early bonds in the Down syndrome community were formed in the LMNOP program when she was an infant.
What is #GenerationG?
The mission of GiGi’s is to go beyond Down syndrome to encourage global acceptance with “Generation G.” #GenerationG is a conscious decision to be better every day. Be generous. Be kind. Be accepting. The organization is opening its doors to the community and breaking down stereotypes with this social change campaign. GiGi’s Playhouse is not just for the child, it’s for the whole community. Each of the supporters creates a widening circle of awareness of the condition and of our kids’ huge potential. The further the circle expands; the more tolerance and acceptance families and parents see and experience. It is Generation G.