Saving the museum from discovery | It’s personal
Wednesday afternoon was their weekly supervised visit with their mother; each week they would come to the same room with the same books and toys, while I would sit on a desk chair by the door to take notes. Before becoming editor-in-chief at NewspaperI worked with youth in Humboldt County as part of an after-school program, summer camp, and foster care agency. Part of my job was to oversee supervised visits like these.
“Mom played with her daughter. Mom struck up a conversation with her son and asked him about school. Mom brought snacks. Mom read them a book.”
But today the little girl was tired of being locked in the same room. She let out a huge sigh and asked her mother if they could go next to the Redwood Discovery Museum. Her mom has looked at me since I was watching and sure enough I said yes. I was just as tired of sitting in the same place.
The girl jumped up and rushed for the door, jumping up and asking her mother if they could play in the interactive science museum‘s water tank. She was thrilled to walk into the vast space filled with toys and hands-on displays, and I couldn’t blame her. When parents and children are stuck in a small room week after week, their interactions become limited and bounded by the same four walls.
The supervised tours at the Redwood Discovery Museum were so different, more engaging and fun. I watched the families trying to explore the museum exhibits together, flipping levers to see what was going on, riding a stationary bike until it produced enough energy to power the brake light.
I first heard about the museum when my partner Jeff was offered a job as a Pal Camp advisor in 2016. Since then he has continued to work for the Redwood Discovery Museum and it is now a part of my life. I worked there a few shifts when it was understaffed and volunteered at fundraisers and events, as well as occasional supervised hospitality visits.
I’ve always thought how lucky Humboldt County is to have it as a rare indoor space where kids can play and learn about science and build their confidence all in one.
In a presentation on the Redwood Discovery Museum, there is a slide titled “The Power of Play” which reads: “Play provides a unique opportunity to develop the executive functioning that underlies adaptive behaviors at home; improve language and math skills at school; build safe, stable and rewarding relationships that protect against toxic stress; and strengthen socio-emotional resilience. “
As you enter the museum’s play area, you see a grocery store stocked with all manner of toy fruits and vegetables, canned goods, and other grocery items meticulously organized into specific categories. If you walk further into the museum, there are interactive exhibits that teach children about gravity, physics, and energy. It’s like a fun introduction to STEM activities, something I wasn’t exposed to until I was probably in college. And every day the museum is open, especially on rainy days, children interact with other children, which helps them develop their social skills.
It is a wonderful and fascinating space.
The Redwood Discovery Museum is also present at events such as Family Makers Night, Math Fair and Fish Fair in Hoopa. It was Jeff’s job at the end of summer camp. As an outreach specialist, he had a table covered with different science activities the kids could try out, like a kit for making fossils at home, popsicle catapults, trampled rockets.
The 25-year-old museum is also home to one of the many First Five Humboldt playgroups, where parents connect with other parents and get support and kids meet other kids. And, of course, the aforementioned Pal Camp that has been around for 70 years – there are grandparents and counselors who were once campers, directors who were once counselors.
One summer, while I was working at the museum, a woman who had brought her grandson told me that while cleaning her garage, she found a clay handprint that her daughters had made at the Redwood Discovery Museum when they were younger. She was delighted to see that the museum was still there to bring her grandchild.
My family moved around a lot when I was younger, so I don’t have a lot of connections or memories of one place I could go back to. So it’s phenomenal to see that the museum has been around for so long to be an intergenerational experience for this family.
But the museum and all its programs are threatened.
Much like other small businesses, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on the museum’s budget. With the closure of interactive museums and shelter-in-place orders, people canceled their memberships and all special events and fundraisers were canceled. Eventually, with a COVID-19 protocol plan in place, the museum was able to open the Summer Pal Camp outdoors only, but it was different and it was strange.
According to the executive director of the Redwood Discovery Museum, Grace Hamaker, the museum has seen its revenues drop by more than 37% in the past year.
This was Jeff’s first year as a camp director, which meant he and Hamaker oversaw all preparations for COVID-19 protocols and had to make sure staff were equipped with personal protective equipment and everything everyone was following all social distancing guidelines while trying to give campers a full summer experience at Pal Camp.
I could see the devastation on Jeff’s face when he came home, sometimes wondering if the kids were having fun. Campers had to stay 6 feet from their friends and couldn’t share anything. The year went by without the weekly sleepovers and potluck dinners, without trips to Freshwater Park, without games of catching the flag or the flagpole in the morning, where the whole camp gathered to sing camp songs and welcome the day.
For me, Pal Camp had lost its adventurous character and had become more of a glorified outdoor daycare. The only assurance I could give Jeff was that at least the kids could be outside and see some of their friends – then I was thinking of the kids who didn’t have the same opportunity or space like that.
The museum is currently providing science kits to parents and has opened a preschool for a limited number of children. Hamaker told me that preschoolers learn about plant root systems and use pipettes for science projects. It is generating income until it can reopen to the public, but it is still struggling.
I ask you to help save the Redwood Discovery Museum. With its annual Perilous Plunge fundraiser – one of its biggest sources of income – coming up, I ask you to sponsor the museum, support a diver, or just donate whatever you can to help keep the museum open.
If the Redwood Discovery Museum does not survive this pandemic, there will be a less safe space for families in Humboldt County, for foster children who visit their parents in the same room week after week, for summer and spring break camps, for parents who bring their little ones to playgroups, for parents who receive support in playgroups, and for staff members who want to be a positive person in the life of a child. And it’s too important to let go.
The children of Humboldt County need to learn and have fun. It’s too important and he needs your help.
Iridian Casarez (she / she) is an editor at the Journal. Contact her at 442-1400, ext. 317, or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @IridianCasarez.