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Down syndrome center kicks off campaign with event Oct. 21

Jenna Elling is pictured with her daughter Annabelle Elling at a table to raise awareness about the drive for a Down syndrome achievement center in Hudson. Elling is among a group of families in the area working to bring a center close to home. Photo courtesy of GiGi’s Playhouse Hudson1 / 2
Nick Lockbaum blows bubbles in front of a table with information on the GiGi’s Playhouse Hudson Down syndrome achievement center at the Run with the Cops event in River Falls. Fundraising for the center is underway now, with hopes to open in 2019. Photo courtesy of GiGi’s Playhouse Hudson2 / 2

An effort to bring a Down syndrome achievement center to Hudson received approval from the national organization GiGi's Playhouse, spurring a campaign by local supporters and families.

The center will be designed with programming to support skill development, literacy and math tutoring and career development.

"The achievement centers are all about helping people, in this case with Down syndrome, reach their full potential," said Lisa Flanary, lead of the start-up committee.

Currently, the closest center is in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. That is where Flanary first connected with the organization, serving as a tutor. It was during one of these 40-plus mile drives that Flanary had the idea to open a center closer to home.

"Why don't I try to build a GiGi's in Hudson, then I can affect a lot more families," she said.

The effort started in February, with Flanary working to connect with people within the community who would be interested in attending the center, and working to get it built.

"I found this amazing group of women, and now there's hundreds of them," she said. "They were really energetic."

The first part of the process was applying with the national organization of GiGi's for approval. Flanary said it did take some time to show them the area had the population and need to support the center.

"The goal for numbers is that if you can serve 250 families you can have a thriving playhouse," Flanary said.

Being in Wisconsin is important for the center to better serve its families without crossing the river.

"It's really important to the families that it's more local," Flanary said.

The center will feature spaces for tutoring, an auditorium, offices and more.

"It is a place to play, but it's also a place to learn," Flanary said.

It is designed for a variety of ages, from children to young adults. Flanary said the center will serve families through the St. Croix Valley in both Wisconsin and Minnesota, as well as most of Western Wisconsin.

"It's really for anyone with Down syndrome and their parents," she said.

One of the key aspects of the current campaign, and the center as well, is awareness.

"Helps open eyes to see these are people that have abilities and dreams and hopes," Flanary said.

The first event about the center will be held at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 21 at River Crest Elementary to raise awareness of the center and what it will do. The event will feature kids activities and snacks, as well as information about the center and ways to donate and volunteer.

"It thrives and continues based on the volunteer network and the fundraising," Flanary said.

The group must raise at least $100,000 for GiGi's Playhouse to move forward with the center. The funds raised will go in part to the national chapter, who sponsors centers throughout the country. Flanary said the group wants to raise at least $100,000 each year after opening to pay for expenses.

The goal is to open the center in 2019.

"I just want to see it come to life and I know it will have an impact just by the number of people that are so excited by it," Flanary said.

To learn more visit the group's Facebook page or go to

Rebecca Mariscal

Rebecca Mariscal joined the Hudson Star Observer as a reporter in 2016. She graduated from the University of St. Thomas with a degree in communication and journalism. 

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