Pressing Play on an amazing new place for children with Down Syndrome: Wills of steel (and Steele) build a better world with GiGi’s Playhouse

Join your friends, neighbors and people from across the community from noon to 2 p.m. on Aug. 18 for the grand opening of GiGi’s Playhouse Tampa at 3611 West Hillsborough Avenue, Suite 200.


Tommy and dad, Chris. Above, the Steele family.

Approximately one child out of 700: that’s how many children have Down Syndrome according an estimate by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In a world of billions, that adds up to a big number – a big number that needs a big national conversation. A big issue that takes people with big hearts to make a difference.

But while Down Syndrome is the largest chromosomal disability in our country, it is the least-funded. Where does that leave families of Down Syndrome children who need a place that can provide their children with the tools they need to succeed?

Welcome to GiGi’s Playhouse Tampa, the newest conversation starter for children and adults with Down syndrome in the Tampa Bay area – and the families and caretakers who love them. When it opens its doors to the world on Aug. 18, words are just the start of the things that will take on greater meaning to a community waiting for what it can provide. How do we know this? Because GiGi’s Playhouse is already making a positive difference, helping more than 80,000 families in 37 cities throughout North America. The programs it offers are as comprehensive as they are FREE and impactful, addressing therapeutic, educational, career development and global acceptance goals for infants, children and adults diagnosed with Down Syndrome.

Beyond this, GiGi’s Playhouse Tampa is simply a place like no other in Tampa where those with Down syndrome and those who care for them can experience a newfound sense of belonging.

In his recent blog post on GiGi’s Playhouse Tampa, Chris Steele – father of Tommy Steele, president of the Tampa playhouse and manager of Engineering & Maintenance at Tampa Electric H.L. Culbreath Bayside Power Station – explains what this incredible opportunity means to him:

You’re invited!

“What is so great about where Tommy attends school is that all children at school adore him…at school. A parent with a special-needs child understands exactly what I mean. The children at Tommy’s school are great and love him so much, but the difficulty comes in the extracurricular activities. Tommy was invited to (1) birthday party in 2018. When I ask Tommy’s typical friends for a play date, there is always something in the way of these plans happening.

“The most difficult realization I have come to terms with is that no matter how much I want my son to be “typical” in societal definitions, he is not “typical”. As children grow and develop, the gap between Tommy and the kids at school grows. It starts out small, maybe Tommy colors outside the lines and his speech is delayed. However, at 7, Tommy is repeating the 1stgrade and is just now counting to 100. However, Tommy’s 5-year-old brother who is starting kindergarten in the fall can run faster, count to over 300 and is reading the same books. While Tommy makes amazing strides every day, the gap between where he is and traditional children in his class continues to grow.”

Maybe you know someone like Tommy. If so, you know that resources like those provided by GiGi’s Playhouse Tampa mean the world to those who need them.

Tommy would love to see you at the opening of GiGi’s Playhouse!

They matter to you too, no matter who you are. Because our community is stronger when those with Down syndrome achieve their best of all. When you see someone in the community who has Down syndrome, you want to know they’re cared for, just as you want that for your own children, with all their unique qualities. But looking out for those among us who have Down syndrome – and the families who love them – takes hard work.

Fortunately, the hard work to build GiGi’s Playhouse Tampa is behind us now. What this effort needs now is your awareness, your support if you can share it, your belief in what it stands for.

It needs your spirit of fun and caring and compassion. Hard work is still part of what happens next, but a major milestone for those in need is here, in our city, for residents that matter as much as anyone else that we love. For their families, that love is even stronger.

Playtime is about to begin – GiGi’s Playhouse Tampa is here. Won’t you join us? Something as simple as a smile can mean so much.



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