Gigi's playhouse logo.When I was a junior at Greensburg Central High School in Western Pennsylvania, I volunteered for the Special Olympics. Roger, the athlete I was partnered with, made such an impression on me because of his complete and utter joy in participating in various sports events. I returned my senior year and again had the pleasure of spending the day with Roger – an experience that led to my continued work with the Special Olympics and, more recently, GiGi’s Playhouse, a national organization that’s changing the way the world views Down syndrome and sending a global message of acceptance for all.

With World Down Syndrome Day coming up this Sunday, I wanted to help celebrate the lives of people with Down syndrome by highlighting this annual United Nations observance aimed at raising public awareness and advocating for the rights, inclusion and well-being of people with this genetic disorder.

Giving back

While my support for people with Down syndrome was ignited years ago by Roger, in 2020 I was looking for a way to make a bigger impact and reflect my parents’ commitment to giving back. While I didn’t have a family member, relative or friend with Down syndrome, I was thrilled when GiGi’s Playhouse New York – one of 50-plus locations – approached me to join its board. What I really love about this non-profit organization is its focus on:

  • Ensuring individuals with Down syndrome have what they need to achieve their full potential.
  • Creating acceptance and a more inclusive world.

As a New Yorker, I also loved the fact that Gigi’s NYC location was in the heart of Harlem, a diverse and inclusive community just north of my then home.

Pushing the limits of what’s possible

I appreciate having so many U.S. Health and Life Sciences colleagues and people throughout Microsoft who are supportive and excited about this work and amazing organization. I’m surrounded by advocates who are influencing the future of technology and resources allowing GiGi’s Playhouse and other efforts to improve independence and inclusion for people with disabilities.

Last year, Microsoft and EvolvRehab joined GiGi’s Playhouse for a hackathon to push the limits of what’s possible by creating an AI-powered virtual coach for physical therapy-based rehab as part of the GiGiFIT program. In addition to augmenting skilled physical therapists, this innovation measures the effectiveness of exercise at the individual level and collects telemetry and feedback to help identify the best place for the next GiGi’s Playhouse Down Syndrome Achievement Center. Please see the outcome of this life-changing project for GiGiFIT participants and their families at Microsoft Hackathon 2020.

Support during COVID-19

Our 2020 hackathon built on our 2019 work enabling GiGi’s Playhouse to transition from in-person engagement to the virtual environment required by COVID-19. I’ve been impressed with how GiGi’s NYC quickly adapted to deliver support through virtual programming – free art, exercise and educational classes, therapeutic-based offerings, family support groups and more. I regularly participate in the twice-monthly virtual Parent / Caregiver TableTalks and have come to know people from every borough of NYC and learned so much from their experiences. Events, including GiGi’s NYC annual fundraising gala last October, also moved online to continue their important work and mission. I invite you to join me for GiGi’s NYC Playhouse upcoming 3rd Annual Virtual Fashion Show on April 22 – a truly can’t-miss event!

Driving greater acceptance

Last January, I was asked to serve as vice president of GiGi’s Playhouse NYC board. It’s a true honor to work with our co-presidents, both of whom have children with Down syndrome, the rest of the board and broader community, which brings great passion, authenticity and dedication to our members and the overall organization.

Given Down syndrome is our country’s largest chromosomal disability, I hope you’ll take time this Sunday to celebrate World Down Syndrome Day by viewing GiGi’s Playhouse NYC Facebook, Twitter and Instagram channels. You’ll find inspiring pictures and quotes of our members’ greatest achievements. My involvement with GiGi’s Playhouse NYC is a big part of me and I’m grateful for the opportunity to help drive greater acceptance of people with Down syndrome and empower them to achieve their full potential.

Please learn more about Microsoft’s commitment to diversity and inclusion and how we’re using AI for good at: