Tsunamis aren't always destructive.
Nancy Gianni, who was compared to a tsunami by one of her major donors at Sunday's grand opening of GiGi's Playhouse's new National Achievement Center in Hoffman Estates, showed how a force of nature can create something meaningful.
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In 2003, Gianni founded GiGi's Playhouse on Golf Road in Hoffman Estates for children and adults with Down syndrome. It blossomed into 15 new playhouses in 10 years.
Now the new 10,000-square-foot facility at 2350 W. Higgins Road in the Barrington Square Town Centre mall offers an expanded menu of programs, including "GiGi University," the first progressive learning center for adults with Down syndrome.
A unique component of GiGi University will be a business called "Hugs & Mugs." Participants will oversee all aspects of the mug-making business, including design and production.
Sunday's opening included a ribbon-cutting ceremony featuring Hoffman Estates Mayor William McLeod and one of the major donors, Vince Foglia, of the Foglia Family Foundation, whom Nancy called "Santa Claus" for his generosity.
"We did it!" Gianni exclaimed triumphantly. "We built this together, you guys. We couldn't have done it without everybody here."
Among the many who she credited was Foglia, whose foundation awarded a lead capital gift of $250,000 in the form of a challenge grant. Gianni also noted that the project still needs another $70,000 for full funding.
Gianni's daughter, GiGi, for whom the center is named, also stepped up and thanked "my friend Vince" for "building our playhouse."
McLeod praised Gianni for her effort and dedication to the project.
"If you could harness her energy, you wouldn't need nuclear power, coal power, oil power or anything else," he said. "I think that this just shows what one person can do."
Gaye Lenihan of Barrington, whose 12-year-old son, Sam, has Down syndrome, said she has been involved with GiGi's Playhouse since it started.
"It's amazing to see it," she said of the new facility. "I believed there was such positive energy from some of the families that were involved that I knew if we could build on that, that there was no limit.
"There are no limits on what our kids can achieve, if we believe in them and if the community believes in them."