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Continued: Families find hope at GiGi's Playhouse

  • Article by: AIMEE BLANCHETTE , Star Tribune
  • Last update: October 10, 2013 - 8:42 AM

Volunteer designers from Target created much of the space, including the teen lounge, which has music, video games and a cool factor that would appeal to any kid. Although the programs are designed specifically for children and teens with Down syndrome, everyone is welcome.

Teri Palthen of Robbinsdale said she feels a sense of peace when she brings her 3-year-old daughter, Ava, to the playhouse. During a recent visit, Ava poked her head in and out of a Little Tikes playhouse, while Palthen caught up with another parent.

“As parents of these kids, we need support, too. At first, I didn’t know what I was going to do,” Palthen said. “I was lost.”

Training mind and body

GiGi’s tries to provide that needed direction. For parents like Palthen, the center is a place to trade information and stories with other parents. Volunteers fill in the support system with programs: The Young Athletes program prepares 2- to 7-year-olds for the Special Olympics, while a new literacy tutoring program gears up kids for reading success.

Jon and Basma Ibrahim DeVries enrolled their 3-year-old son, Jacob, in the pilot literacy program over the summer. During the research-based program, Jacob learned 30 new words.

“He does well because we’re learning so much about how we should be working with him at home,” said Jon DeVries, of Minneapolis. “I always assumed he should learn the way I did.”

On a recent afternoon, Jacob paged through a book, identifying the duck and tree on the page, adding an enthusiastic “Quack, quack!”

Jacob put the book down to join his friends, Baur and Brooke, who were amused by their reflections in the mirror.

Brooke, now 2 years old, explored her independence while Dilly, her mother, comforted another mother who was visiting the center for the first time.

“You’re at the right place,” Dilly told her. “Brooke is able to explore and learn, and struggle on her own. It’s good for her. It’s good for us.”


Aimee Blanchette • 612-673-1715


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  • Photo gallery: Playtime with a purpose

    Wednesday October 9, 2013

    Children with Down syndrome, and their parents , have found an oasis of support at GiGi's Playhouse.

  • GiGi’s Playhouse is a support network, play group and educational facility for children with Down syndrome. Tawnya Dilly, of Victoria, brings her daughter Brooke, 2, at least once a week. At the playhouse, Dilly said, “Brooke is able to explore and learn, and struggle on her own.”

  • Baur Bush, 3, comes to GiGi’s Playhouse in St. Louis Park for open play once a week. He loves checking his reflection in the stage mirror.

  • Brooke Dilly, 2, and volunteer Elizabeth Huff, 13, played in the “kitchen” area. GiGi’s Playhouse, which has expanded from its Chicago base to 15 locations now, has only one paid staff member at its St. Louis Park site. The rest of the work is done by volunteers.

  • Teri Palthen enjoys bringing her daughter Ava, 3, to GiGi’s. “As parents of these kids, we need support, too,” she said, acknowledging that at first she was at a loss for how to care for Ava.

  • About Gigi’s Playhouse

    To donate, sign up for programs or volunteer:

    Where: 4740 Park Glen Road, St. Louis Park.

    Contact: 952-926-3660 or

    More info:

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