Community working together for benefit of Children's Museum

-- Children's Museum of the SierraFebruary 27, 2013 

More than two-dozen Mountain Area residents concerned with the future of the Children's Museum of the Sierra gathered at the Oakhurst Elementary School's new multipurpose room on President's Day to brainstorm ideas for the facility.

"It was a great meeting, a lot of people came with some good ideas on how to increase the museum's sustainability," said Steve Montalto, executive director of the museum.

The meeting took place one year after a similar gathering to highlight the dire financial circumstances and loss of leadership the museum was dealing with. A year later the message was brighter, but still highlighted that the museum needs help.

"A year ago we were on life support in critical condition," said Jarrod Lyman, president of the museum's board of directors.

"Today, we're in a stronger position thanks to the efforts of Steve and a relatively small group of volunteers who have developed popular programs and staffed events that have not only kept people coming to the museum but have helped increase members, admissions and overall awareness. But those programs aren't by themselves enough to solve all of our issues," Lyman said.

During the course of the meeting, Montalto highlighted the numerous steps taken in the past year to increase membership and attendance through classes, special events and public outreach. He also indicated that for the museum to continue to survive, it needs the help of volunteers.

"Volunteers are the life blood of the museum and the and we have needs in many areas; to serve as docents to help visitors find and engage more extensively with the various exhibits, to actively help to get the word out about the museum, to become committee members to help conceive and execute events and fundraisers and so forth. Without high levels of community stakeholder engagement, no children's museum can survive, and ours is no different," said Montalto.

"Actually, to be honest, it is even more important in our community due to the lack of significant corporate or business community funding."

Montalto also touched on adding to the list of classes taught at the museum utilizing a new model that thus far, has proven successful.

"We'd like to expand our menu of classes and programs that are offered by community members who share their expertise and passion for a particular subject," said Montalto.

Classes such as Music and Movement taught by Tamara Dent and Spanish Immersion classes instructed by Rosa Ruiz have been popular additions to the museums curriculum, and a change from the traditional model.

"Instructors can either volunteer to teach a free class focused on a subject about which they are excited, giving them a chance to inspire future generations to follow along in that path, or they can pay a small rental fee to the museum and recoup that cost through class admissions costs. Both models have been successful, and will allow us to expand our offerings to the community," said Lyman.

Following the presentation, the attendees broke out in to groups to brainstorm ideas for events and fundraisers, public outreach and summer programs. Follow-up meetings are planned for evenings to ensure a wider group of community members can attend. The goal will be to staff up additional committees and have them be active on-going groups.

"We want, actually need, to keep the momentum going and use this excitement to continue to build a dedicated group of volunteers and stakeholders who support the museum," Montalto said.

Future special events include the inaugural Breakfast with the Easter Bunny on March 30 and the inaugural Oakhurst Salsa Challenge on April 20. For more events and meeting dates, visit www.childrensmuseumofthesierra.org.

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