LOVELAND, Ohio — After years of driving two to three hours to find a place where her daughter could thrive, Amy Pennington and her team of board members are proud to announce they’ve built that space in their own backyard.
The Greater Cincinnati area is opening its first GiGi’s Playhouse at the end of September, establishing a free resource center for children and adults with Down syndrome and their families.
On the second floor of the Branch Hill Towne Center in Loveland, Pennington offered Spectrum News a tour of the place.
Though the floor was half-carpeted, its playground yet to be delivered and the walls still waiting on a fresh coat of paint, her nine-year-old daughter Kennedy was already happily at play with her friends, taking advantage of the new space.
“It's still a lot of needs to fill but at the same time it’s also rewarding to have a spot that’s open,” Pennington said.
Once it’s fully stocked and renovated, the facility will be home to a playscape, a gym, a learning kitchen, a tutoring center, a lounge, a career center and more, all available to those with Down syndrome at any age for free.
“There’s nothing else out there that is 100% free for us that’s going to hit this quality level,” Pennington said.
Spectrum News spoke with Pennington last year, as the fundraising and planning efforts were still underway. She shared how difficult it was to find resources that offered affordable programming geared toward Kennedy’s speech and behavioral development until she visited GiGi’s Playhouse for the first time.
The problem was, the closest center was in Indianapolis. So Pennington reached out to fellow families facing the same concerns and got to work trying to bring GiGi’s Playhouse to Cincinnati.
“From idea to execution, it took about four years,” she said.
Then, this summer, the board found a space to rent, moved in, began renovations and hired their first site manager, Dena King.
“I had followed their journey of starting and launching,” King said. “I believe in this mission. It’s going to be so impactful for Cincinnati.”
Pennington said roughly 100 area families have reached out to the center in the past four years and expressed their interest, but with thousands of people in Greater Cincinnati with Down syndrome, she expects that to grow once the center opens.
“We have a lot of amazing resources for individuals with Down syndrome, but this just targets things a little bit differently with its programming and consistency,” she said.
When the center opens, it will have most of its rooms up and running, but expects to continue opening more and more programming as it grows and hopefully attracts more donors.
“We need some volunteers, we need our wishlist filled, we need some paint on the walls and then we’ll be up and running,” Pennington said.
The official grand opening is from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sept. 24 at 732 Middletown Way, Suite 200.
This will be the third GiGi’s Playhouse location in Ohio. The other locations are in Canton and Lakewood.