Matt Nord finds common ground between GiGi’s Playhouse and Shepherd’s House
When Matt Nord started coming to GiGi’s Playhouse two years ago, he was pretty shy and rarely looked anyone in the eye. The facility specializes in providing free educational and therapeutic programs for individuals with Down syndrome, and Nord presented a little bit of a challenge.
They’ve finally found Nord’s niche and it’s a pretty good one.
GiGi’s board member and volunteer Lorri Meyer was helping the facility start a boutique. They were working on imprinting pictures and symbols on coffee cups and water bottles when Nord, 43, approached with a flag design. Nord loves drawing flags and is always wearing “Old Glory” on his hats, T-shirts or buttons.
“I loved the fact that he loves our country because I do, too,” Meyer said. “We kind of bonded over that.”
Then, around last Veterans Day, Meyer was reminded of Fort Wayne’s Shepherd’s House which provides a refuge for homeless servicemen. Meyer asked for permission to take Nord for a visit, and they brought along a “God Bless America” sign he had created. An awed Nord was hooked during his visit, asking for everyone to sign his camouflage fatigue jacket, but so were the veterans.
“Sometimes when guests come to visit, our veterans are not always open and are timid and anxious, but when Matt comes they all come out and sit around him at the table and talk and engage him,” said Tracey Barr, house manager at Shepherd’s House. “Matt makes them feel comfortable and just has a way about him. They really like being with him. They forget about their problems for a while, and that’s not a bad thing.”
As the visits have continued, the veterans have tagged Nord “Mr. America” and loaded him up with T-shirts, a bracelet, pins and hats. They’ve even ordered him some dog tags and call him an honorary veteran.
Nord’s patriotism is always on display. He loves reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, has a large flag in his workstation at Easterseals ARC and he wears flag designs on his hat or T-shirt every day. Asked what he likes about Shepherd’s House, Nord immediately replies veterans, their firm handshakes and their tattoos. He likes everything about them. They are his heroes.
“You ask him about Shepherd’s House or America or the veterans and he just lights up,” said GiGi’s Playhouse Executive Director Holly Tonak. “It just fuels him in a way that is unimaginable.”
Recently, GiGi’s Playhouse held a fundraising gala including an auction which was supposed to include a Nord hand-painted flag made from a pallet. Nord insisted the flag could not be auctioned because it was supposed to go to Shepherd’s House. It was delivered earlier this week and now sits in the house’s Serenity Garden.
“We thought it was pretty neat that Matt thought of us on his own,” Barr said. “I thought that was very selfless and thoughtful of Matt to remember our veterans and present them with something so neat.”
Nord also took a couple dozen coffee cups to give away at Shepherd’s House. He returned with 36 cupcakes and countless smiles.
“Every time we go, he walks out with something and food,” Meyer said. “I just love the way the guys all treat him. We dote all over him because he’s a special person. He’s something else.”
GiGi’s Playhouse is hosting an Over The Edge fundraising event at the Lamplight Inn, 300 E. Washington, on July 19 and 20. It’s the first time the rappelling event has been held in Fort Wayne, with individuals and groups raising money for the chance to rappel down the side of the inn. Over The Edge has raised more than $70 million for nonprofits over the past eight years. There’s more information available at gigisplayhouse.org/fortwayne/over-the-edge.