Office Doors: A Day with Jennifer Gage


I wake up and go to bed early. I quit drinking coffee a couple of years ago and now have my daily Celsius. I like to listen to the birds for about an hour and find it’s a great way to start my day. I use a bird app that tells you the types of birds in your surrounding area based on their sound. I also set my intentions for the day and review my planner to see what I have scheduled.


I have an affection for young adults because my daughter, Kaitlyn, is 27 and has Down syndrome. She’s the reason I started GiGi’s Playhouse in 2015. At the time, she was in high school, and I was concerned about what we would do after the bus stopped coming. When the Playhouse came across my desktop, I knew it could hold the answer to what Kaitlyn was going to do with her adult years. I knew once we started GiGi’s Playhouse, we could move on to its next iteration for adults, which we did three years later, called GiGi University.

GiGi’s Playhouse supports those with a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome through the end of life. Our oldest participant is in his 70s. We cover it all, and it’s for a reason. Having a child with special needs requires a lot of support, and we’re there to provide for that child throughout their life, and their families as well.


I spend 10 to 20 hours per week at Gigi’s Playhouse. Twice a week, I attend our music and sign language program for mothers and their children with Down syndrome called LMNOP, which stands for Language Music N’ Our Peeps. Of the 23 programs we offer, this is one of my favorites because I love to be around babies and new moms. It’s a wonderful experience because the new moms have the opportunity to be with their child with Down syndrome while networking and sharing their experiences about what’s working and what they need to know.

I like to get a pulse while I’m at the Playhouse, so I touch base with everyone. I meet with our executive director to see what’s going on and discuss fundraising opportunities and events we’re putting on in the community. I’ll check in with our site coordinator, who also happens to be my mother, Cathy. I always get a big hug from Mom when I come to the Playhouse. Our organization is 90 percent volunteer-run, and I enjoy interacting with our key volunteers, who are there almost every day, and the new volunteers to see how they’re doing and feeling.


I don’t go to the Playhouse as often as I used to, so I make sure it’s a meaningful visit when I’m there. I handle the organization’s public relations and manage social media. I give donor tours so they understand who I am, how the Playhouse came to be and what we do as a group. I am assisting our gala chair in planning our biggest fundraiser.

As founder, I will always hold a board position and am currently serving as co-board president. We are focused on strategic planning and fundraising and talk about programs, volunteers and new outreach ideas we have. Our next iteration of GiGi’s Playhouse is a program we will launch in 2024 called GiGi on the GO. We will take our programs and materials on the road in a new van to underserved or remote areas for those who cannot come to the Playhouse. We will start the program in Maricopa County and then try to expand into northern and southern Arizona.


Five years ago, I was in California and had a shoulder injury. My Pilates instructor recommended I check out the StretchLab next door. It’s assisted stretch, and I loved it and felt instantly better. When I came home to Arizona, I wanted to become a member but found out there weren’t any locations. I purchased the rights to 10 Valley franchises and have opened six locations.

I know in my heart that without my start-up work with GiGi’s, I would not have been confident opening my own business — finding the location, writing the lease, building it out, then expanding. I like to accentuate this point because GiGi’s isn’t just for people with Down syndrome. It’s for their families, their extended families and volunteers. Because through experiences, you learn things and acquire the confidence to go out in the world and do something you might not have done otherwise.


I unwind in the evening by watching mindless TV. I’m a geek and like Sci-Fi and am obsessed with “The Golden Bachelor.” My husband and I have four children, including Kaitlyn. They are wonderful kids who were profoundly affected for the better by having a sibling with Down syndrome. They are empathic and philanthropic, and I get choked up when I talk about them because they’re so great!

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About Julie Coleman

Julie Coleman is a contributing writer for Frontdoors Media. She is Principal of Julie Coleman Consulting, providing strategic philanthropy consulting services for individuals, families, businesses, foundations and nonprofit organizations.

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