Common Ground with…Kelly Antonson

Common Ground with…Kelly Antonson

Kelly Antonson worked in the corporate world for years before deciding to take some time for herself to find out what could bring her more joy. During this time, her daughter was a mentor on an all-abilities cheer team that went to GiGi’s Playhouse to show people with Down syndrome what was available for them to do in the community. This marked the first time Antonson stepped foot into GiGi’s. 

Antonson’s year started by her asking herself what brought her joy, and as time went on, she realized that all roads lead her back to GiGi’s. Antonson started volunteering at GiGi’s Playhouse six years ago. She then worked her way up and joined the board of directors before starting her current position as the organization’s director just two weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. 

Although it took a couple of years for her to realize what she actually wanted to do, the moment she figured it out, it all fell into place. 

The mission at Gigi’s Playhouse is to create a more accepting world for the Down syndrome community. They offer free educational and career development programs not only for people with Down syndrome, but also for their families, and they commit to being there for these families for a lifetime. 

What do you think is the biggest challenge our community faces?

Through the lens of what I see in the Down syndrome community, it’s about true inclusion and acceptance. Dane County is awesome, but we have to continue to make sure that we’re truly including people in all aspects of life, whether it’s hiring practices, schools – across all ages and into college – and just opportunities in general. Dane County does a really good job, so we’re very lucky to be where we are, but from my perspective, there’s never going to be enough inclusion and acceptance. 

What do you wish people in our community understood better? 

I wish people better understood what having a Down syndrome diagnosis means. Our mission at GiGi’s is to change the way the world views Down syndrome and bring a global message of acceptance for all. People with Down syndrome are judged before people even talk to them because they wear their diagnosis on their face. People immediately assume that they can’t do something or assume that they are less than, and they’re not. So, people understanding that there’s not much difference between a typically developing person and a person with Down syndrome is important. We all have our differences. Just get to know someone that has Down syndrome and you are going to be amazed. 

That’s what we see every day with our volunteers because we are 99% volunteer-run. A lot of the time I feel like our volunteers get more out of this than the participants because their lives have absolutely changed getting to know and truly befriend someone that may be different from them, and that they never would have had access to before. The volunteers are going to be able to take that out into their world and their communities, too, and continue making the world a brighter place. 

What is one change you would make if you could that would make life better for people in our community? 

Accessibility. Whether it’s being able to get into a building easier for people in wheelchairs or that have mobility issues, or having visual schedules and pictures of what needs to be done when you walk into a building or restaurant. That would be a huge thing to do and would really be something interesting to see. I know people with Down syndrome learn best by using all their senses. Maybe they’re not able to understand what a word means, but they’re able to see a picture of what’s supposed to be done and that’s going to help them gain that independence and make sure they’re able to be moving through their life with ease. 

What in our community gives you hope?

This Playhouse, all the incredible volunteers and the families that come here. I get to see really beautiful things every day. We know that the world is tough right now, but we celebrate something here called “Best of All” and that means doing a little bit better than the time before. We celebrate “Best of All” every single day, every single day something incredible happens here. 

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Although Gigi’s Playhouse is part of a national network of Playhouses, the national office does not provide funding. Instead, all funds come from locally raised donations to ensure that the families get to be a part of this program for free. For anyone interested in donating, please visit the Gigi’s Playhouse Website

The next big event for Gigi’s Playhouse is their Dash for Down Syndrome. This 5K fun run at Winnequah Park —a great way to get involved in the ommunity — will take place from 8:30 -11 a.m. on Saturday, April 27. 

Photo of Kelly Antonson at Gigi's playhouse. Photo provided by Kelly Antonson.

Written by:

79 Posts

View All Posts
Follow Me :

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *