GiGi’s Playhouse was created to change the way the world views a Down Syndrome diagnosis and aims to send a global message of acceptance for all. GiGi’s Playhouse has over 48 locations in the United States, all operating to support children and families affected by Down Syndrome. Locally, GiGi’s Playhouse Des Moines has been in the metro for a little over ten years. Each location serves to be an inspirational and dedicated place for families to celebrate their child and benefit from free, purposeful programs that unleash joy, confidence, and continuous improvement.
GiGi’s Playhouse Des Moines has been partnering with APEX’s Exercise and Sport Science course for almost four years. During that time, student associates have helped with classes associated with their career development program called GiGi University as well as assist with their weekly cooking classes for adults with Down Syndrome. This semester APEX student associates are currently hosting a virtual fitness class called GiGiFIT Teen and Adult. GiGiFIT Teen and Adult introduces key movements of foundational, hip strengthening, and vestibular/balance exercises that focus on improving areas of fitness through activities in strength, endurance, joint stability, balance, movement control, and more. GiGiFIT Teen and Adult incorporates age-appropriate activities that teens and adults can be successful with and strengthen their bodies purposefully. GiGiFIT promotes wellness improving nutrition, pushing through barriers, and building self-confidence. This marks the first session of GiGiFIT Teen and Adult at their local playhouse. Once everything gets back to normal, they are hoping to host GiGiFIT Teen and Adult at the playhouse, but for now, classes will continue to run virtually. Classes are hosted virtually every Thursday.
Taylor Pierce has been the Programs Director for the Des Moines locations for the past five years. She explains that due to COVID the playhouse is currently shut down, so all programming has gone virtual, which also means virtual volunteers. Since they have partnered with APEX in the past, they reached out with the idea to host a virtual fitness program for their teens and adults. This program was new to Des Moines and also new to APEX but, as Taylor explains, “the group took it on and have been doing a great job leading the program virtually at their school. The teens and adults that they work with on a weekly basis love being able to interact with the students.”
APEX student associates Baylor O’Neill, Jacob Martin, and Jadon Engstrom all serve as the team of associates working on the GiGiFIT classes, with Baylor serving as the team lead. Baylor stated that she was interested in working on this project because she was hoping to gain some experience with personal training. She is also interested in community wellness programs, public health, and recreational therapy, so this project was a good fit for her. She hopes that raising community awareness for GiGi’s Playhouse and their GiGiFIT programs will get more people involved and will also lead to increased understanding for the importance of programs like this, as they are so beneficial for people who struggle with power, joint stability, balance, etc.
Anyone interested in learning more about GiGi’s Playhouse Des Moines, or their programming, can visit their website at https://gigisplayhouse.org/desmoines/.