On Dec. 2, Elie Kim presented GiGi’s Playhouse Detroit with a check for $10,000 on behalf of 100+ Women Who Care Motown. Elie is pictured with her sister, Elena, and some of the women from 100+.

On Dec. 2, Elie Kim presented GiGi’s Playhouse Detroit with a check for $10,000 on behalf of 100+ Women Who Care Motown. Elie is pictured with her sister, Elena, and some of the women from 100+.

Photo provided by Ema Kim

Teen helps raise awareness for Down syndrome

By: Kathryn Pentiuk | C&G Newspapers | Published December 15, 2023


SOUTHFIELD/BIRMINGHAM — GiGi’s Playhouse has had a profound impact on the Kim family since before it officially opened its doors in Southfield almost five years ago.

The Kims are Birmingham residents who were involved in some of the fundraising before GiGi’s Playhouse Detroit officially opened its doors in 2019, and their 14-year-old daughter, Elena, has been an active participant at GiGi’s ever since.

GiGi’s Playhouse is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization with a vision to “change the way the world views Down syndrome and to send a global message of acceptance for all.”

GiGi’s provides free therapeutic, educational and career training programs for over 30,000 individuals of all ages. In the 20 years since GiGi’s was founded, 58 locations have opened in the U.S. and Mexico, and it is the nation’s only network of “Down Syndrome Achievement Centers,” facilities aimed towards providing skills and growing confidence in individuals with Down syndrome.

As a parent to a child with Down syndrome, Ema Kim said GiGi’s Playhouse has been a blessing.

“GiGi’s Playhouse has other playhouses across the country, but the one in Southfield is the only one in Michigan,” she said. “And it’s the only location, the only organization where there’s actually a physical space that I can take my daughter to for programs that are specifically designed for individuals with Down syndrome.”

Elena is currently enrolled in “Art Explosion,” a program that explores different art media and fosters creativity, and “Teen Tastic,” which helps teenagers build social and problem-solving skills.

Elena’s older sister, Elie, a Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy sophomore, began volunteering at GiGi’s last year and strongly advocates for Down syndrome awareness.

“Down syndrome is a type of special needs where people wear it on their face,” Elie stated. “Just because they wear it on their face, people assume that they can’t do a lot of things that a normal human or a teenager can do, which is not the case at all. That was what I wanted to bring awareness to and to let those who don’t know about Down syndrome know that they’re not limited; they act just the same as us. They might have a few more challenges but aren’t limited.”

On Dec. 2, Elie presented a check for $10,000 from 100+ Women Who Care Motown to GiGi’s Playhouse Detroit. The group of women select local charities to receive donations. Each member donates $100, which helps make a greater impact, resulting in a minimum donation of $10,000. Ema Kim is a member of this group, and through this connection, Elie was able to help raise funds for a cause close to her heart.

“The only words that kept coming to me in the time spent there were ‘joy and love.’ The people who organize the association, the people who volunteer and the Down syndrome community are just so loving, and it was wonderful,” 100+ Women Who Care Motown co-founder Nancy Sullivan said.

Denise Moore, the president of GiGi’s Playhouse Detroit, stated that the women from 100+ Women Who Care Motown seemed just as touched as everyone at GiGi’s was about the contribution.

“We were thrilled they chose our organization to give back to,” she said. “I’m around special needs kids all the time, so it’s interesting to see someone that’s not. But I could tell that these women were very moved. Some looked like they were tearing up a little bit.”

For more information on GiGi’s Playhouse, visit gigisplayhouse.org/detroit.

For more information on 100+ Women Who Care Motown, visit 100pluswomenmotown.com.