An awareness-raising photo exhibit featuring black-and-white portraits of suburban children with Down syndrome and their families will be unveiled Tuesday at Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg.
The exhibit, "One Million Voices" -- an initiative by Hoffman Estates-based GiGi's Playhouse Down Syndrome Awareness Centers and Alexian Brothers Health System -- aims to change people's perceptions about Down syndrome.
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Each portrait, taken by Barrington photographer Thomas Balsamo, tells the story of a person's life, interests and experiences with community acceptance. The goal is to show people with Down syndrome as unique, loving individuals and not just people with the diagnosis.
"When you read their stories ... you'll see they're just kids. And that's what we want people to take away from it," said Nancy Gianni of South Barrington, the mother of 10-year-old GiGi, the namesake of the organization that now has 18 locations in the U.S. and Mexico. "Take away that 1950s textbook image and think of this great, productive kid who wants nothing more than to be accepted," Gianni said.
The "One Million Voices" is actually an arbitrary number to signify how many people need to stand up, defend and befriend children with Down syndrome, Gianni said.
"For Woodfield to be embracing us -- 27 million people visit Woodfield each year -- we're excited to be touching as many lives as we can with the gallery," Gianni said.
This is Gigi's Playhouse's second traveling photo exhibit. The first, also photographed by Balsamo, was "I Have A Voice" in 2005.
A ceremony to unveil the "One Million Voices" exhibit will be at 4 p.m. Tuesday in Woodfield's Grand Court (in the center area in front of Macy's). The public is invited to attend. Many of the families featured in the photos will be present.
Alexian Brothers spokesman Matt Wakely called the exhibit "inspiring."
"All those who see the gallery at the mall in the coming weeks will truly be touched," he said.
The gallery will be on display at Woodfield Mall until Jan. 26, and then move on to Quincy, Ill., and Syracuse, N.Y., among other stops.
For more information, see http://gigismillionvoices.org/