CINCINNATI — According to her mother, Kennedy Pennington might be the friendliest member of the family. Within seconds of meeting the energetic 8 year old, she’ll likely ask at least 10 questions, offer up a hug and invite you to play ball.
“She’s probably got me beat in social skills by a lot, and I’m a lot older than she is,” her mother Amy Pennington said with a laugh.
Kennedy was also born with Down syndrome, one of thousands of children across Ohio growing up with the condition.
“They’re more alike than different,” Pennington said. "They have more abilities than most people give them credit for.”
Growing up, Kennedy needed speech, physical and occupational therapy to help her develop and thrive, but Pennington said those resources can be expensive or difficult to find.
“When she was born, we lived out in Brown County, which is pretty rural and we didn’t really have that many resources,” she said.
Those that Pennington did find seemed focused on early childhood, not lifelong support.
“Her age group was always getting missed with any other resources,” she said.
That was until she learned about GiGi’s Playhouse, a national organization focused on offering free programming for anyone with Down syndrome at any stage of life.
Pennington started taking Kennedy when she was 5, enrolling her in literacy classes and giving her space to make friends with other children like herself. There was only one problem.
“The closest one, I figured out, was in Indianapolis,” she said.
As much as Kennedy loved it, it was a four-hour round trip from Cincinnati. Pennington couldn’t manage it too often. Instead, she started looking for ways to bring GiGi’s closer to home.
“Then it kind of grew as far as I started talking to other people and it really has become more of something for the community to come in and see our kids and learn from our kids,” she said.
Pennington applied for an application to build a GiGi’s Playhouse in Cincinnati, GiGi’s approved and Pennington got to work, raising funds, building a board and scouting locations. She plans to open the center of the east side of Cincinnati.
Currently on phase 2 of the project, Pennington said she and the board will need to raise $250,000, half of their yearly operating expenses before they can sign their lease. Then they’ll work on building out the center and training a staff.
“There’s about 3,000 people in the Tri-State that can benefit from this source, and I know that 3,000 people don’t know about it yet,” she said. “So it’s just a matter of getting the word out there.”
Pennington aims to open the center by the end of 2021 or early 2022. It will be the third GiGi’s Playhouse location in Ohio. There are locations in Canton and Lakewood.