RALEIGH (WTVD) -- Every spring, GiGi's Playhouse Raleigh hosts a gala which is its biggest fundraising event but this year, because of COVID-19, participants traded in their suits and gowns for sneakers and t-shirts
"It is definitely different," said Maria Romano. "We all dolled up and we get our long dresses and it's a super fun night and so many people come together... So, it doesn't compare, but it was definitely I think the best thing that we could have done."
Almost 300 local participants joined Gigi's to step for acceptance. Together, they took one billion steps raising over $1.3 million for all 60 playhouses.
"We're a non-profit," Romano said. "We really needed to make sure our doors would be able to stay open for all of our families that depend on us. Gigi's came up with we're going to do a walk, a step to accept everybody as they are and Lucia we decided we're definitely doing that. I think it was very fun, correct Lu was it fun for you? Yeah." (mom1)
The virtual event wasn't just for the Down-syndrome community but for global acceptance of everyone.
"I thought it was just so timely," Romano said. "Our name, step to acceptance for all was just so relevant it was not just for Lucia and her friends but it was for everyone."
"The concept is the same across all of the different races, genders, ethnicities, that sort of thing," said Rachel Geer. "I've spent the past five years fighting and advocating for my son to get everything that he should get, everything that he's worthy of receiving. The events of last week have really forced me to recognize that I have to do that for my entire family."(mom2)
Rachel's son Kendall, who has Down syndrome, just turned five last week and instead of gifts they asked for donations for Gigi's step to accept and a group of them walked through UNC's campus as a way to honor Kendall and all of his friends with Down syndrome.
"It was just really crucial and important that my family participated in the walk last week and show the world that my son is worthy, he's valuable," Geer said. "His life is important. He has Down syndrome and he's black. The concept that his life matters is so valuable right now and it's so important to me that I get the point out."
"He's considered a part of two populations that historically been oppressed," Geer added. "He's capable, he's smart, he's friendly. He has a personality like no other: he's magnetic. And participating in the walk was a really important way to show all of those factors to the world."