On May 11, 2021, a fire broke out at GiGi’s Playhouse in Fargo, North Dakota. The playhouse, which opened in 2015, is North Dakota’s first Down syndrome achievement center and well-known in the Fargo-Moorhead community as a place of light and support for children and adults impacted by Down syndrome.
“I remember looking out our office windows and we could see the thick, black smoke,” one RDO team member recalls of that day. “Everyone was concerned, we didn’t know where the fire was. When we found out it was GiGi’s, people were really devastated.”
Sadly, the building was a total loss. Almost instantly, GiGi’s went into recovery mode. Plans for a temporary space were quickly put in motion. The team also launched its effort, “Rebuild the Playhouse,” to do exactly that – build a new space to continue GiGi’s mission to offer life-enhancing programs and support to individuals with Down syndrome and their families.
As one might imagine, the generosity of community members and businesses would be essential to GiGi’s effort to rebuild its new space. Among the biggest opportunities to raise the needed funds was Giving Hearts Day.
All About Giving Hearts Day
Held annually in February, Giving Hearts Day began as a simple fundraising concept to rally donations for nonprofits across North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota. The event ties in the ideas of feeling the love for others on Valentine’s Day and sharing the love with charities in the community.
Since it began in 2008, the 24-hour “give-a-thon” has raised more than $138 million for numerous nonprofits. Local businesses join the effort by matching donations, helping to make the impact even greater.
R.D. Offutt Company has been a Giving Hearts Day participant for several years, seeing the annual event as one way to live up to its stakeholder philosophy through supporting communities. For RDO leaders and team members, efforts like Giving Hearts Day are more than a “to do” on the company checklist but are instead an extension – a principle – of who RDO is.
In the Fargo Field Support Office (FSO) and at RDO stores throughout the nearby communities, RDO provides a donation match to team members to encourage their participation and further amplify the impact of their donations. Additionally, RDO’s Community Responsibility Committee added to the effort by giving gift cards to the 10 local Fargo, Moorhead, and West Fargo high schools to fund their Giving Hearts Day donations.
This year, more than 200 team members donated on Giving Hearts Day. With their dollars and RDO’s matching donations, nearly $55,000 was donated to a variety of charities across the Fargo-Moorhead community. The Offutt Family Foundation topped it all off with a total of $30,000 in extra gifts to various charities RDO team members chose to support. One of the charities included in RDO and the Offutt Family Foundation’s generosity was GiGi’s Playhouse.
“I know Gigi’s is a benefit to our community and they need funds to rebuild following the fire,” Karen Graf, Senior Software Test Engineer said. Karen is one of several team members who chose GiGi’s Playhouse as the recipient of their Giving Hearts Day donation.
One of the reasons Giving Hearts Day is so special goes beyond the opportunity to impact a deserving charity, especially in its greatest time of need. The day gets very personal for people who have a deep connection to a charity and its mission. In addition to the opportunity to help GiGi’s in its effort to rebuild after the fire, Laurie Welder, Executive Assistant had this personal link to GiGi’s that inspired her to give.
Personal Connection Fuels Giving
For more than 30 years, Laurie has had a very close, very personal connection to Down syndrome.
“My best friend’s younger sister, Jenny, has Down syndrome,” Laurie shared. Both Laurie’s best friend, Chrissy, and Jenny have always felt like family to Laurie. In fact, Chrissy and Jenny live in Laurie’s home in London, Ontario in Canada.
“Chrissy and Jenny both moved in with me and my daughter in 2012, when I was still living in Canada,” she said. “Even after I moved to Fargo, those three still live together.”
There is a local nonprofit organization in London that offers programs and events for people with Down syndrome and support for their families. Throughout the years visiting home, catching up on FaceTime, and staying connected through social media, Laurie has seen the positive impact of that nonprofit’s work on Chrissy and Jenny.
“The programs and events mean so much to Jenny,” Laurie said. “But even more than all the benefits that Jenny gets, the support and community they offer to Chrissy is huge.”
Still relatively new to the Fargo community, Laurie had been looking for an opportunity to support a similar nonprofit here. Giving Hearts Day was the perfect time for her to discover GiGi’s and learn about its mission and needs. As a bonus, giving on this special day would make her dollars go even further.
“I’m grateful to RDO and the Offutt Family Foundation for their support and encouragement to participate in Giving Hearts Day,” Laurie said. “These nonprofits work so hard to give back to our community. When I see the joy they get from our support and the impact it has on the people they help, it all means so much to me.”
Supporting Communities In Times of Need and AlwaysEvery year, dozens of deserving charities get a big boost thanks to the generosity of companies like RDO and team members like those in the FSO and nearby stores. This year, the day may have been especially impactful for one charity in particular, but RDO team members, the company, and the Offutt Family Foundation showed up big for numerous nonprofits in the community.