Down syndrome center headed for northwest metro

At 1 and a half years old, Colin Farnsworth brings a lot of joy to his mom, Jill.

"He's always happy. He always can put a smile on our face," said Jill. "I think he's gonna be a class clown!"

But Colin has challenges too. Jill and her husband, Aaron, discovered Colin had Down syndrome shortly after he was born. She says the news was shocking at first. But now the Brooklyn Center family does whatever it takes to keep Colin's development on track.

Every week Colin goes to occupational therapy through a local school district and physical therapy at Gillette Children's Hospital. But what's missing is one place where the family can go – just for kids with Down syndrome.

That place could be GiGi's Playhouse. 

GiGi's Playhouse is a Down syndrome awareness and educational center for children and families. It first began in Illinois nine years ago and has expanded to 11 locations throughout the United States. The centers provide therapy, education and a social outlet for children with Down syndrome – and their parents – at no cost to families.

Amy Jackson knew immediately that she wanted a GiGi's Playhouse in Minnesota after her first son, Cody, was born with Down syndrome a year ago. Jackson envisions a hub for families where parents can find support and children with Down syndrome can make friends, build self esteem and feel a sense of belonging.

"Minnesota absolutely needs one here," said Jackson, "it is going to be a place for all of our children to get together."

Jackson formed a nonprofit with other parents and they hope to raise tens of thousands of dollars to open a GiGi's Playhouse by January of 2012. The group is scouting locations near St. Louis Park and Golden Valley. And on Saturday they are hosting their first major fundraising gala at Pinstripes in Edina.

"Our children are a little bit different," said Jackson, "and we want them to have typical peers - and they will. But when it comes to their socialization and learning style, that is what's unique and to have this place is going to be just a blessing to all of our children."

Jill Farnsworth plans to attend the fundraiser with her family. She looks forward to having a home base for families to come together.

"It's nice for the support," said Jill, "the emotional support and knowing that they're going through the same everyday struggles that we are."

"I Have a Voice" Gala Fundraiser - Live music, games, a silent auction and more
Saturday, February 25, 2012
7:00 pm
Pinstripes in Edina
Admission: $50/person

Jennifer Anderson reporting

February 24, 2012



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