ROSEVILLE, Calif. — About a week after opening, GiGi's Playhouse was vandalized when their windows were sprayed with graffiti and hate speech directed toward people with Down syndrome, the organization said.
"This is not our first experience with hate speech toward the Down syndrome community. People with Down syndrome face lifelong discrimination and are often targeted for the disability that is written on their face," the center said in a statement.
The posters were defaced in black marker with slurs against those with Down syndrome.
GiGi's Playhouse referred to the vandalism as "heartbreaking" and "unacceptable," noting that the graffiti was written on actual images of local Sacramento-area children.
Nicole Harrigan, board president for GiGi's Playhouse, said the allusions from the graffiti were a "total gut punch." Her 8-year-old son Nicholas is among the local children with Down syndrome who grace the windows of the new playcenter.
"I feel bad for you because you clearly you don’t know what you’re talking about. You clearly have not gotten to spend time with these people because if you had, you wouldn’t have said any of these things," said Nicole Harrigan, board president for GiGi's Playhouse. "You don’t know what you’re missing. These people don’t judge you; they accept you as you are."
The new facility in Roseville opened last weekend, playing host to more than 500 people at their grand opening. According to their website, GiGi's Playhouse is described as "an achievement center for individuals with Down syndrome, their families, and the community" that provides free therapeutic and educational programs.
Harrigan said the graffiti only reinforces the center's mission of changing the way the world sees down syndrome.
While Harrigan said she is still processing the heartbreak, she's said she's been helped by outpour of community support.
"My son and his friends, and everybody I've met with Down syndrome tends to be a forgiving and loving and accepting person, so I'm trying to take a page out of their books," Harrigan said.
In response to the vandalism, the center is encouraging people to take the GiGiFit Acceptance Challenge, an effort meant to bring together a million people in a physical and social movement for acceptance through June 5.
Rob Baquera, spokesperson for Roseville Police Department, said police are currently investigating the incident.