CLEVELAND — Lizz Maxwell has always had her hand in helping young people develop essential life skills. She spent 12 years working at a high school, she raised her own children and now works with kids at GiGi’s Playhouse.
“I knew that in some way shape or form, I had to be a part of what was going on here because when you have a place where everybody can be celebrated," Maxwell said. "That's my cup of tea!"
For Maxwell, the work she does as site director of GiGi’s Playhouse is some of the most rewarding yet. She gets to help change the way people view those with Down syndrome.
“It’s a wearable diagnosis," Maxwell explained. "When you see somebody Down syndrome, you can see that they have it, and because of that there's a lot of stereotyping and prejudice that goes ... and we are working hard to stop that."
GiGi’s Playhouse Cleveland offers free therapeutic, educational and career development programming to families with no barriers, including cost. They range from infant, toddler, and school-age to teenage and adult programs.
“To have them be as independent as they can and to achieve whatever goals they have, you know, whether it's moving out, going on to college or finding a part-time job maintaining meaningful relationships," Maxwell said. "Whatever that goal is for them in the long run, that's what we're here for."
Maxwell explained the site was able to launch and offer Gigi’s at home while coronavirus restrictions were in place, and virtual was and still is a success. But she said face-to-face interaction is irreplaceable. In-person GiGi Fit classes keep participants motivated to move.
“Our friends with Down syndrome need that physical fitness to be keeping those muscles moving and growing and strengthening, and that's what GiGi Fit is able to do,” Maxwell said.
GiGi’s Playhouse is able to that and so much more for those with Down syndrome of all ages.
“I love that we make that lifetime commitment that we're always going to be there for them right by their side throughout their life,” Maxwell said.
GiGi’s Playhouse is able to provide free programming to over 400 families in the Greater Cleveland area with help from grants, private donations and fundraisers.