Life not the same for Hoffman mother as GiGi's Playhouse expands

Mother's Day was never quite the same for Nancy Gianni after she gave birth to her daughter GiGi, who had Down syndrome. Then again, why should it be? The little girl inspired Hoffman Estates-based GiGi's Playhouse, which opened in 2003 to provide therapeutic programs, peer mentoring and other resources. It has since grown to 15 playhouses in Illinois, Iowa, Georgia, Minnesota, New York and soon in Queretaro, Mexico. More are being planned.

In October, Gigi's Playhouse will mark its 10th anniversary by moving into a newly built headquarters and national training center in Hoffman Estates, which provides room for more growth of the organization to help other children and adults with the syndrome, said Gianni, the founder and CEO.

"It's been a gift from God," Gianni said.

In August 2002, GiGi was born and her parents learned she had Down syndrome. They also had to quickly get her into surgery to repair two holes in her heart.

"We were blindsided by the diagnosis," she said.

Everything changed the day of her daughter's birth, yet much of it changed in a way that Gianni didn't expect.

"When you take away the fear, you see her as a little girl, a sibling, someone to love and to be celebrated," Gianni said.

And that celebration came in the form of Gigi's Playhouse, which opened in Hoffman Estates in 2003 with community support and about $25,000 in donations. That project led to hundreds of inquiries from others wanting to learn more about the center. Other local Gigi's Playhouses are in Aurora and McHenry.

So far, the organization behind Gigi's Playhouse has received support nationwide to open similar facilities to help local children and adults, Gianni said.

Even 10-year-old Gigi has talked in front of crowds and if she stumbles on a few words, she puts her hand up and says, "Calm your body" to herself, and she continues on, her mother said.

Father Paul Gianni is on the board of Gigi's Playhouse and helps with fundraising. While there are six employees at the headquarters in Hoffman Estates, each playhouse is primarily run by volunteers, Gianni said.

"There are so many children who have Down syndrome and not many places for them to go and to learn more about things," Gianni said.

<h3 class="briefHead">Retired consultant on the battlefield</h3>

Larry Werline retired late last year as an educational consultant for Oracle products and developed custom courseware and trained customers using Oracle business software. He now plays General Ulysses Grant during Civil War Days on May 18-19 at Naper Settlement in downtown Naperville.

<h3 class="briefHead">Geneva shop marks 30</h3>

Lauren and Gary Miller own Geneva Shoe Repair, which marks its 30th anniversary this month. Gary's father, Robert Miller originally had a shop in Elgin in 1960, but it later closed. He then opened the shoe repair store in Geneva in 1983. The third generation, brothers Rob and Dan Miller, also work at the shop.

<h3 class="briefHead">Precision hails 75</h3>

Brothers Andy, John and Matt Larson are owners of Precision Instruments in Des Plaines, which marks its 75th years. The company, which makes torque wrenches and torque testing equipment, was started by their grandfather, Ken Larson, and then handed down to John Larson, the father of the three brothers. Many of their employees, some logging 20 years to 40 years with the company, are protective of the facility. Being on the Des Plaines River, the employees have been known to come at all hours to put up cement wall blocks and hundreds of sand bags that kept the shop from being destroyed until recently when the city of Des Plaines built the river wall, the company said.

<h3 class="briefHead">FastTrack</h3>

Ray Griffith, the retired CEO of Oak Brook-based Ace Hardware, was inducted into the Home Channel News Hall of Fame during its Golden Hammer Awards ceremony last week in Las Vegas. The event coincided with the 2013 National Hardware Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center. ... Shane Beard, owner of FastSigns of Wheaton, hired David Spaeth as the new manager and outside sales representative. Spaeth is an active member of Naperville Jaycees and he created a donation video for the Naperville Humane Society.

Keith Kottke went into Biggby Coffee in downtown Arlington Heights about two weeks before it was set to close. After he talked with them, he hired them for the new Daily Grind & Grill at 5 W. Campbell that he co-owns and opened last week. ... Laura Martin, a nurse practitioner at The Center for Medical Weight Loss of the North Shore, recently completed her training and certification in medical weight loss, counseling and nutrition. She is now seeing weight-loss patients at the center in Libertyville. ... Frank Martinez is now a broker associate at Inland Real Estate Brokerage & Auctions Inc. in Oak Brook.

Richard S. Swartz Jr. has been promoted to president of MYR Group subsidiary companies Sturgeon Electric Company Inc., The L.E. Myers Co., Harlan Electric Co. and Hawkeye Construction Inc., part of Rolling Meadows-based MYR Group Inc. a specialty contractor serving the electrical infrastructure market. Swartz will continue as senior vice president and chief operating officer of MYR. ... Braden L. Rudolph has been promoted to vice president of asset management at Green Courte Partners LLC, a private equity real estate investment firm in Lake Forest targeting parking assets and land-lease/manufactured housing communities. ... Steven N. Sharlin of Buffalo Grove is now on staff at Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital.

Senior Project Manager Andy MacMillan, Project Manager Mike Costanzo and Project Superintendent Steve Bulger are leading the Woodridge-based Morgan/Harbour Construction build-out of 11,500-square-foot office within Highland Landmark III in Downers Grove on behalf of The Scoular Co. ... Heidi Feiler is the new support manager at Evanston-based Workhorse Software, an provider of software for advertising and marketing agencies, ... Deidre Frith is now vice president of marketing and public relations at SpecAlloy Corp. in Niles, also known as Panhandle Converter Recycling.

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