Hometown Heroes: Therise Perez

The Perez Family: Daniel, Joe, Therise and Stephen.

By Joan Frances –

Fort Bend County has a diverse population of caring citizens who work to make this world a better place to live for everyone – young and old. Residents with disabilities and special needs have places to go where the atmosphere is calming and learning is fun. GiGi’s playhouse in Sugar Land is a unique organization where individuals with Down syndrome can receive direct educational and therapeutic programs free of charge. The positive and uplifting environment empowers clients to reach their highest potential. One volunteer who generously donates her time teaching at the center is Therise Perez.

Along with her husband, Joe, Perez has lived in Sugar Land for 22 years after moving from Houston to be closer to her sister. She taught pre-kindergarten for eight years and kindergarten through eighth grade art for six years and raised three sons. Perez retired to care for her best friend’s four-month-old twin girls, who are now three.

Therise Perez and Kristi Oujesky at Gigi’s Playhouse. Photo by Belinda Orsborn.

During her years as a teacher, Perez always had a soft spot in her heart for students with Down syndrome. She recalled, “Giving back to my community and beyond is what brings me the most joy in life. Sugar Land has so many visionary organizations for volunteering. It was really difficult to decide at first, but when my friend Belinda told me about GiGi’s Playhouse, I knew it was a perfect fit for me.”

For the past year, Perez has been teaching literacy to two students for an hour twice each week. This one-on-one instruction allows her quality time with the girls. “All of the volunteers at the center bring enthusiasm and serenity to the students. We talk, laugh and enjoy the hour we have with them. There is no better use of my time.”

In addition to the time she spends teaching literacy, Perez helps with the toddler program whenever she is needed. GiGi’s Playhouse offers many different educational activities and programs designed to specifically work on important skills for each child. “They learn so much more than improving their reading skills,” Perez said. “I observe them reacting socially and building confidence, and I can see an increase in speech and language development. Art is also very important to me, and I want to help start an art program for kids. The staff members at the center are so friendly. The wonderful commitment to serve and to help these overlooked children is gratifying, and I am so proud to be a part of this organization.”

Perez has also received training in Red Cross Disaster Services, including community disaster education, mass care and sheltering. When floods hit Fort Bend County, she is available and trained to help.

This year, Perez is engaged in the two main fundraisers with GiGi’s Playhouse. “The Fashion Show and luncheon was March 31st at Sugar Creek Country Club and is always a big success. I was happy to model clothes from Cabi Fashions. Everyone participates – even the students. It’s just another way of encouraging social confidence.

“The First Annual Walk-a Thon is May 6th at Brazos River Park. It’s a 5K walk and a one-mile inspirational walk. I have a four-member team of walkers who will be participating. I also run 5Ks for different organizations to help raise money for breast cancer, childhood cancer and leukemia.”

For more information or to volunteer with GiGi’s Playhouse, email sugarland@gigisplayhouse.org or call 832-939-9919.