Towne Salute: Florence August of GiGi’s Playhouse
Jan 04, 2018 12:40PM ● Published by Nicole Gould
While the beginning was tough, Florence August had no idea the impact her daughter Olivia (20), one of her triplets, was going to have on her today.
“I’m such a different person than who I would be without her,” August says. “I will always be grateful for who she has made us.”
Knowing very little about Down Syndrome after Olivia was born, August immediately took to the bookstore for information, attended a few meetings, and after sitting through a book club, decided to take things into her own hands.
“I was feeling so detached because some people just didn’t get it,” August admits. “There was a lack of information available and I felt the need to be in communication with people who better understood.”
Thus, the founding of Down Syndrome Connection (DSC). Created with four other local families, DSC was created as a parent group serving families in Anne Arundel and the surrounding counties. Since its creation in 2006, DSC has grown immensely, serving over 300 families in the area today.
“The heartbeat of DSC is the List Serve Chat Group,” August says. “It’s a closed group where we can get advice from each other about doctors, therapies, and all of that information. That’s really where everyone does a lot of their communication.”
With information pouring from DSC, August was still concerned with the lack of programs offered to individuals with Down Syndrome in the community. After Olivia graduated from high school and all of her friends went off to college, she wasn’t left with much to do because the late teen and adult population are not presented with many opportunities. That’s when August discovered GiGi’s Playhouse.
“What I dreamed about is a place where families could gather together, see each other on a consistent basis; a physical location that has programs for all families, from those with a prenatal diagnosis to adults,” August explains.
After spending countless hours around her kitchen table with other volunteers, she was able to make that dream a reality by bringing GiGi’s Playhouse to Annapolis and taking on the role of Volunteer Program Coordinator.
GiGi’s Playhouse Down Syndrome Achievement Center’s mission is to change the way the world views Down Syndrome through national campaigns, educational programs, and by empowering individuals with Down Syndrome, their families, and the community.
“GiGi’s is a front porch where you can meet everyone,” August says. “GiGi’s will benefit the community in so many ways. It will bring free services to families who can’t afford it and that’s the biggest draw because therapies and other programs are expensive. To be able to bring purposeful programs without breaking the bank is huge.”
In her role, August, along with nine other committee members, decided on the programs GiGi’s will offer, along with the leader of the programs, assistants, and volunteers. The Annapolis location will start with four programs following the curriculum used throughout all 33 GiGi’s locations.
The programs will include Destination Discovery (all ages), LMNOP: Language Music N’ Our Peeps (early learners), Playhouse Pals (school-age children and teens), and Fantastic Friends (young adults and adults).
“The coolest thing about GiGi’s is everything they do, is underlined with a purpose,” August explains. “Within the program we go over social cues, when to take turns, hygiene, etc.
If you come to any program at GiGi’s, it’s going to be worthwhile, disguised as fun. I’m very excited about it.”
August is especially excited for Olivia to take part in the Fantastic Friends program, giving her great opportunities to get together with the older kids and take part in activities such as cooking, karaoke, and even mall scavenger hunts.
“It’s going to be great to have friends forever who also have disabilities and commitments to go meet them,” Olivia says.
Spending 30 hours a week balancing work between GiGi’s and DSC, August admits that she couldn’t do it without the support of her family.
“They [kids] have been helping out since they could walk,” August says. “They have been involved with advocating for Down Syndrome since the very beginning. They got to see someone’s idea turn into a law and that’s a pretty outstanding education for them. They’re so supportive.”
One of her triplets, Mary, at 14 years old, testified in Annapolis for a bill to change nomenclature, replacing the “r” word with intellectual disability, in state policy. It was sponsored by previous Maryland Senator, Barbara Mikulski, and passed in both houses in Washington, D.C., and eventually Rosa’s Law was signed into federal law by President Obama.
Dedicating over two decades to creating awareness and advocating for Down Syndrome, while raising four kids, Florence August is nothing short of an extraordinary person.
“The feeling of helping someone else is underrated and it’s undermined by our busy schedules, but it can lift you so high just to help somebody else,” August says. “It can be a really fulfilling opportunity. To have that chance each week and get the feeling of joy as a volunteer, that’s what life is about.”
For more information on GiGi’s Playhouse visit Gigisplayhouse.org/Annapolis.
Great news! GiGi’s Playhouse has officially found a home in Annapolis. Location: 129 Lubrano Drive, Suite L104, Annapolis Opening Date: Saturday, February 3rd, 2-4 p.m.
Do you have a volunteer to nominate? Email Nicole Gould at Ngould@WhatsUpMag.com or fill out this online form