By Carole Robinson, Senior Staff Writer
When Melissa Wenger moved to Franklin two years ago with her husband Bryan and their then nine-year old son who has Down Syndrome, she realized resources in the Nashville area were limited for individuals with Down Syndrome and their families.
Working with her son’s teacher at Trinity Elementary, she came up with a solution, and on Nov. 2 Wenger opened GiGi’s Playhouse.
GiGi’s is a national network of support and friendship where individuals with Down Syndrome can thrive.
For her vision and efforts in creating another resource for individuals and their families, Wenger was named the Darrell Waltrip Hometown Hero for November.
“Part of the motive behind Hometown Heroes was people like yourself – people with big hearts; ordinary people doing extraordinary things.” Waltrip said to a small gathering where he presented Melissa with a specially designed Hometown Hero trophy and a $500 donation to GiGi’s Playhouse.
“There are a lot of heroes among us,” he added.
Thirty years ago children were institutionalized, Wenger said.
“Now, we’re learning, with education and training they can get jobs, get married and even raise a family. They can do so many things with support.”
GiGi’s Playhouse, which was founded in Chicago, provides educational and therapeutic programs masked in a fun, happy and hopeful environment, Wenger said.
It’s a place where people can learn more about their child’s diagnosis and network with other families.
It’s a place where children, teens and adults with Down Syndrome can interact, learn new skills and become leaders.
“It also brings families together allowing them to connect, share resources and support one another … giving newer families a glimpse into what their lives may be like five, 10, 15 or even 20 years from now.”
Most importantly, GiGi’s Playhouse is free.
A gala held in March at the Country Music Hall of Fame and donations like this from Darrell Waltrip provide funds for the programs, Wenger said.
Posted on: 12/26/2013