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Your Chicago: Gigi’s Playhouse

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A couple of youngsters play at Gigi's Playhouse, an organization for the families of children with Down syndrome. (CBS)

A couple of youngsters play at Gigi’s Playhouse, an organization for the families of children with Down syndrome. (CBS)

Rob Johnson Rob Johnson
Rob Johnson is the weekday anchor of the CBS 2 Chicago evening...
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HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. (CBS) -- It is a sanctuary for parents of children with disabilities, a place where their kids can learn and play, and where they can bond with other parents who share their experience.

It’s called Gigi’s Playhouse.

From afar, it looks like any other playroom. Kids are laughing — enjoying their toys, books, and each other.

But take a closer look and you will see that all of these kids are special. They all have Down syndrome.

Gigi’s Playhouse is the vision and the passion of Nancy Gianni, who, after delivering her daughter, Gigi, nine years ago decided there needed to be a place where parents like her and their kids would be loved and accepted.

“You get a hug when you come in,” Gianni tells CBS 2’s Rob Johnson.

Two-month-old Ariya Roman is one of those children who comes to Gigi’s Playhouse with her mother, Asiyah.

“They made me realize my kid can walk, can talk, can study, can have friends,” she says. “I became hopeful and calm.”

For Carey Personette, who brings her one-year-old son, Will, it meant finding people on a similar life journey.

Gigi’s now has 12 locations, including five playhouses in the Chicago area, and others from Iowa to New York to Atlanta, and soon Mexico City.

There is so much here: 26 therapeutic, literacy and math programs. But in the end it is about empowering each other and giving their kids a bright future.

“This baby will shine. He is doing beautifully. We could not ask for anything more,” Personette says.

Editor’s note: CBS 2’s Rob Johnson, who has a brother with Down syndrome, has been involved in Gigi’s Playhouse and has emceed the organization’s fundraising gala for the last six years.

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