GiGi’s Playhouse named 74th WOWO Penny Pitch recipient

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WOWO): An organization dedicated to helping young adults with Down Syndrome be more independent will be the recipient of this year’s WOWO Penny Pitch effort.

WOWO Program Director Mike Ragz and Fort Wayne’s Morning News host Kayla Blakeslee announced today that GiGi’s Playhouse had been chosen out of dozens of qualified northeast Indiana 501(c)3 not-for-profits to benefit from this year’s 74th annual WOWO Penny Pitch.

“Gigi’s Playhouse has such a strong imprint on Fort Wayne, not only enriching the lives of the Down Syndrome Families in their program but also making sure those kids give back and can become positive role models to everyone in our community and inspire us all to lead fulfilling lives,” Ragz said.

In 2003, GiGi’s Playhouse founder Nancy Gianni launched the first Down Syndrome Achievement Center in suburban Chicago in honor of her daughter, GiGi, and other children like here. The effort has grown to 50 locations worldwide, including Fort Wayne in 2015, where founding board members Doug and Cindy Atkinson faced a similar situation with their granddaughter, Charlotte.

“Thank you so much,” Doug Atkinson said once learning GiGi’s Playhouse in Fort Wayne had been chosen as this year’s recipient. Both he and Cindy were emotional upon receiving the news.

In the five years after GiGi’s Playhouse Fort Wayne was launched, they have helped over 300 area families and the Fort Wayne branch offers a unique Career Development program called GiGi U, as well as the Genesis Health Bar, which offers GiGi U students the opportunity to get hands-on experience working with customers directly.

The organization plans to use Penny Pitch funding toward expanding both of those programs through the purchase of a 15-passenger multipurpose van to transport GiGi’s Ambassadors to and from the Health Bar, GiGi U, and other career opportunities, as well as staffing drivers for the van.

“After you get out of high school, if you have an intellectual disability, there’s not a lot of options (for work) at all,” Cindy Atkinson says. “(Our) ultimate goal is to be able to pay our adults who have graduated – which we call our Ambassadors – at least a minimum wage, if not higher, while they’re working (with us).”

The 74th annual WOWO Penny Pitch will officially begin fundraising efforts at the 2021 Christmas on Broadway event on November 19th, followed soon after by a collaboration with the Fort Wayne Komets at the annual Bob Chase Memorial Game on Thanksgiving Day, November 25th. The annual two-day radiothon will take place on December 9th and 10th, live at Sweetwater Sound in Fort Wayne.

You can learn more about Penny Pitch, and donate, at


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