Jennifer Netter and Darren Cosgrave had done such a sterling job of prepping the walls, they looked already painted. Their two daughters, Ruari and Aine held paper towels and paint cans in the midst of the bright transformation.
The 3,300 square foot space at 100 Austin Street, Suite 3 was getting prepped for the Greater Patchogue Chamber of Commerce ribbon cutting of GiGi’s Playhouse Long Island Down syndrome Achievement Center, of which Netter is its board member and facilities and IT director, on March 7.
It will be the only GiGi Playhouse Down syndrome Achievement Center on Long Island which spans coverage to the east end and to western Nassau. There are currently over 50 GiGi’s Playhouse locations across the country.
The Patchogue headquarters location is the culmination of efforts led by board president and Cirigliano Agency owner Mike Cirigliano, a two-year attempt kicked off with an outdoor family fundraiser at Hoyt Farm, golf outings, dine-arounds, and a whoppingly successful cocktail party and comedy show at Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts last March just before Covid hit. It drew 750 people.
“Keith Caputo introduced the comedy show,” said Cirigliano of this year’s Long Island Advance’s Inspiration Award winner from Center Moriches. (Caputo, a young powerhouse with Down syndrome, started the non-profit, Helping Makes U Happy.)
Close to $200,000 has been raised, enough to fund its first year of operation, said Cirigliano of the not for profit.
The Jayne Avenue location will kick off with the following programs: LMNOP, a interactive program that guides parents and young children through learning basic sign language and other forms of communication using music and language-based activities; Destination Discovery which supports the development of fine motor skills, social skills and language through play and peer to peer interaction; and GiGi Fit for Teens and Adults exercise classes.
“We will add more as it grows,” said Cirigliano of the six other programs on their list, with programs encompass early learners, school age, teen and adults.
He passed a room targeted for their library and pointed to an area where a stage will be built for karaoke events.
“The programs are for newborns to adults,” he emphasized. “And they are free.”
The programs are specifically tailored to the challenges children with Down syndrome face. “Communicating can be difficult for some because they have low muscle tone,” Cirigliano said, for example, referring to the LMNOP program that will help.
Programs will be mostly taught by volunteer parents of children with Down syndrome, or those with a family member with Down syndrome, he said. “But it’s not limited to those, and we’re always looking for appropriate volunteers.”
There is always an epiphany in any significant effort and Cirigliano’s began when his brother and sister-in-law had twins, his nephew Louis and niece Bella; Bella has Down syndrome. (Cirigliano is godfather to both.)
The families spent a lot of time together at each other’s homes.
“Three years ago Venessa Diaz said, `Long Island needs a GiGi’s Playhouse,” explained Cirigliano. Diaz, start-up founder and activist, has twin boys with Down syndrome and had visited a GiGi’s Playhouse in Chicago. “She knew my sister-in-law, Kim, who said `my brother-in-law owns an insurance and financial services company and he’s very community oriented.’”
Cirigliano then signed on as the start-up committee’s financial chair.
The support group that has swooped the Long Island headquarters to the finishing line either in funding and/or volunteer hours as well as board members is committed, and energetic. The March 7 ribbon cutting will be filmed by Patchogue’s master photographer Benny Miggs to air on March 20, their virtual grand opening and the day before World Down syndrome Day. Cirigliano has already rented out Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts filming comments from sponsors like Mayor Paul Pontieri, Patchogue-Medford Library executive director Danielle Paisley, and Patchogue Arts Council executive director Beth Giacummo-Lachacz.
“Having been a special ed teacher and a principal in a BOCES special education school and chairing Independent Group Home Living Program, Inc. with 80 group homes for developmentally disabled adults, I understand the need for community programs for those who need these services and GiGi’s Playhouse is the bridge for parents for what happens at home and school,” said Pontieri. “It gives parents tools to educate their kids. A child with Down syndrome is challenging for any parent, challenging because parents don’t know what they need to do and GiGi’s gives them the ability to move the child along. I love the concept, it’s well thought out, and Mike’s dedication is to be applauded. I thank him and his board for bringing GiGi’s Playhouse to Patchogue.”
The ribbon cutting and Patchogue Theatre comments will appear on Facebook at 10 a.m. on March 20.
Like most visionaries, Cirigliano has sights on expanding. He intends for the Patchogue site to also be a welcoming support space for parents.
“I want to build a GiGi’s destination, with a GiGi’s Café, where you can get coffee and we can do job training and a retail clothing store,” he said, looking at the parking lot with its other office buildings.
“All the small businesses here have been supportive with open arms.”
For more information and to support GiGi’s Playhouse Long Island, click on https://gigisplayhouse.org/longisland/.