FARGO — Crews were hacking away at damage with chainsaws and shovels, breaking down what was left of the SouthPointe strip mall Wednesday, May 12, after a fire ripped through it Tuesday.

Kristin Nelsen, the founding president of Fargo's branch of Gigi's Playhouse, one of the businesses lost in the fire, had only one word on her mind when seeing the flames and smoke rise into the sky: "Devastation."

The nonprofit is an "achievement center" for people with Down syndrome that helps empower families and encourage acceptance.

"I thought of all the work that has gone into getting our organization up and running," Nelsen said.

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Nelsen said Gigi's Playhouse was about to start its summer program, where clients would've been allowed to go inside the playhouse for the first time since the pandemic took hold in the Red River Valley.

One of those clients is her own son, Birk.

"(Birk) has really grown up with Gigi's," Nelsen said. "He doesn't know anything different than Gigi's."

Kristin Nelsen wraps her arms around her son, Birk, who has Down syndrome, during a family picture session. Submitted photo
Kristin Nelsen wraps her arms around her son, Birk, who has Down syndrome, during a family picture session. Submitted photo

Nelsen said plans are still uncertain for where clients like her son will go, but she and other board members have started to hash out those plans inside the Dakota Medical Foundation building, 4141 28th Ave. S. in Fargo, which they say is a big help.

"We have nothing right now, but just to be able to have a roof over our heads and putting thoughts on paper (is great)," said Heather Lorenzen, the executive director of Gigi's Playhouse.

Even though the plans aren't clear yet, clients and board members are keeping positive attitudes and staying strong through the total loss.

Fire crews will likely take at least a month to investigate the cause of Monday's fire, according to Fargo Fire Marshal Ryan Erickson.

Gigi's is accepting donations for their recovery effort on their website, https://gigisplayhouse.org/fargo/.