Tampa playhouse gives those with Down syndrome a home away from home

All the right moves are being made for people with Down syndrome at GiGi’s Playhouse in Tampa. 

"We have programs that start all the way from birth to adulthood, focusing on different things like language, speech pathology, occupational therapy, cooking, dance, fitness," explained Maria Balderas, board vice president GiGi's Playhouse. "I mean, you name it, we have it." 

The free, non-profit Down Syndrome Achievement Center was started in 2018 by a group of concerned parents. 

"You see a lot of resources out there for other types of abilities and things and so this is a specialized place where individuals are kids and adults," said Candi Medeiros, Gigi’s Playhouse site manager. "Both can come and be recognized and, you know, get the resources that they need." 

For parent Doreen Altieri, the center has been a great learning experience for her son Nick. 

"He has really learned how to advocate for himself and advocate for everyone here," Altieri shared. 

The center is littered with success stories like Sam Piazza, who starred in a documentary about growing up with Down syndrome.  

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"Really been a huge honor for me to be a part of it," Piazza said.  

Earlier, this year Mary Frances Smith won first place in the Publix Collard Green Festival contest. 

"My prize-winning is chocolate collard greens cupcakes," she stated.  

For Nick Altieri, it's about friendship. 

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"This is where we can relax and see each other and enjoy each other," he explained.  

A home away from home for individuals with Down syndrome, GiGi's Playhouse is a national network of centers throughout the U.S. 

LINK: For more information about Gigi’s Playhouse visit https://gigisplayhouse.org/tampa/.

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