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by Melanie Baker

Related: gigi's playhouse nyc, volunteer in nyc, volunteer with kids with down syndrome,

Professional opera singer Sabrina Francis volunteers her time and talent at Gigi's Playhouse NYC in upper Manhattan to inspire children with Down syndrome through music and sign language.

Gigi's Playhouse NYC
Sabrina Francis engages with kids during a class at Gigi’s Playhouse NYC.

Sabrina Francis was born to entertain. She harnesses her vocal chords as a trained opera singer and performs notably with the City Opera and the American Spiritual Ensemble. Her talents, however, span far beyond the opera stage and are making a remarkable impact at Gigi’s Playhouse NYC, a community center for children with Down syndrome and their families that offers programs, classes, and support, all gratis and all tailored to the center’s visitors.

Francis volunteered to teach music and movement, combining her love of performance and more than 15 years of experience in early childhood education and special ed in hopes of bringing joy through learning to the children at Gigi’s Playhouse.

• The music and movement class is just one of many free programs and resources at Gigi’s Playhouse designed to connect and empower those impacted by Down syndrome in the New York City area.

Gigi’s Playhouse NYC is located at 106 W. 117th St. For more information, including how to volunteer, call 646-801-7529 or visit gigisplayhouse.org/newyork.


• To access free signing videos from Signing Time or find a certified ASL
instructor near you, go to signingtimeacademy.com.

“Initially it started as a traditional music and movement class,” Francis recalls. “I used percussive instruments, pantomime, jumping, running, and walking. Everything is based on social interaction as well as language.”

Francis was encouraged by the positive response she saw from the children and their families, but also understood the more unique challenges of the less verbal or non-speaking children who were participating. She took on the task of incorporating sign language into her class, recognizing that children with Down syndrome respond strongly to physicality.

After getting certified to teach American Sign Language to babies via Signing Time Academy and weaving ASL into her classes at Gigi’s, Francis began seeing impressive results right away. “Babies can pick it up so quickly and parents are really encouraged,” Francis says of sign language.

While progress and results are meaningful, Francis is much more encouraged by the smiles and energy the children radiate during her classes. “I feel like I get more out of it than I give,” she says. “I love seeing the children’s excitement when they learn something, or when quiet children are suddenly not afraid to dance, aggressive children learn to calm down, and others learn to socialize.”

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