As the city continues to reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a class at GiGi's NYC, a community center in Harlem, is a much-needed creative escape for Safia Alrawi, who has Down syndrome.
"After a year of the pandemic, I actually feel really good and proud to come back here" Alrawi said. "My favorite thing to do here at GiGi's is to do the art, as you can see."
The strain of lockdowns and social distancing has been tough on the city's Down syndrome community. So these in-person programs at the Harlem center are also a chance to make connections again.
What You Need To Know
- The in-person programs at GiGi's NYC are a chance for participants with Downs syndrome to make connections again
- According to the CDC, people with Down syndrome are more likely to get severely ill from COVID-19
- Administrators say the programs at GiGi's NYC are guided by strict protocols to keep participants as safe as possible
"I do enjoy meeting new friends here" said Alrawi.
According to the CDC, people with Down syndrome are more likely to get severely ill from COVID-19. A study out of the United Kingdom found that adults with the disorder are 10 times more likely to die of the virus.
With that increased risk in mind, administrators say the programs at GiGi's NYC are guided by strict protocols to keep participants as safe as possible.
"We're making sure capacity is under 14 as much as we can possibly manage it" said Noelle Leczel, programs coordinator.
Leczel said they have been thoughtful about bringing people in, even as they continue to run virtual programming, like a weekly cooking class.
But she says resuming face-to-face programming and seeing participants practice their social skills again has been invaluable.
"To actually be in-person means the world, and I've seen it, seen the change from being on Zoom, being online," Leczel said. "The energy has just shifted."
As GiGi's NYC expands its offerings with more social programs, that's something Alrawi said she knows firsthand and is grateful to experience again.
"I just love being a part of this community, and I enjoy every minute of it," she said. "This is my home."