Founder of Hoffman Estates-based GiGi's Playhouse a 2016 CNN Hero

CNN has named Nancy Gianni of South Barrington, the founder of Hoffman Estates-based GiGi's Playhouse, as a 2016 CNN Hero.

Gianni opened the first GiGi's Playhouse Down Syndrome Achievement Center - named after her daughter - 12 years ago.

There are now 31 facilities throughout the U.S. and Mexico, serving more than 25,000 participants and family members. All programs at the centers are free, ensuring that cost will never be a barrier to those in need of their services.

"This is not about me or GiGi. It is about all of us stepping up to make this world a better place," Gianni wrote in a statement released after CNN's announcement. "The real Heroes of GiGi's Playhouse include the participants themselves, (they inspire me every day!), the volunteers who run 97 percent of all programming, the courageous families who embrace the journey of opening a Playhouse in their own community, and the believers who make this all possible."

Gianni was nominated for the honor by Richard Riley, a grandparent of a GiGi's Playhouse participant who is a longtime supporter of the organization.

"Acknowledgment on the world stage should be but a beginning in recognizing the mission and the expectation of its success that Nancy Gianni has set," Riley said. "It could have easily been about her child, her struggle. Instead Nancy chose the word 'our' ... our children, our struggle. Millions are in need of feeling the touch of love that is GiGi's Playhouse."

CNN Heroes, now in its 10th year, honors everyday people for selfless and creative efforts to help others. In its first nine years, the program received more than 50,000 nominations from more than 100 countries and has profiled more than 200 CNN Heroes.

Gianni's recognition came after a monthlong vetting process that included an analysis and investigation of GiGi's Playhouse's 501c3 standings with the IRS and financials over all 12 years of its operation.

To see CNN's coverage of Gianni's recognition, visit cnn.

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