Only 24 percent of children’s museums are open across the country while the rest have been closed due to COVID-19. The pandemic has put a long-lasting effect on millions of lives in different ways, and one way includes the social and educational development of young children.
Little Buckeye Children’s Museum closed in March and has not been able to reopen because of the risk factor. All employees aside from Executive Director Fred Boll and Museum Manager Suzanna Hammond were furloughed, and the museum has felt the loss of its local families and visitors.
“We can't earn any income right now. We haven't earned income since March 13,” Boll said. “So we need to bridge that gap between COVID ending and the Imagination District starting.”
After raising $5.2 million for the Imagination District and unveiling their initiative back in 2019, plans steamrolled ahead, and Boll and Hammond saw great progress in their new passion project. Unfortunately, their plans have slowed down since the beginning of the year, and they’re calling on the community to help them raise operation funds on Giving Tuesday.
“This is the first time since I’ve been executive director and since Suzanna's worked at the museum that we've had to go out and ask people for operation funds,” Boll said. “Before, we never had to ask or make that request again, and it's a short term problem for us. We fully anticipate once we can reopen to go back to being self-sufficient.”
Without places such as Little Buckeye or the Imagination District available this year, children have had lesser opportunities to socialize and explore their minds.
However, even though progress has slowed down, work has continued. Boll and Hammond have moved forward with Imagination District, and over the summer they’ve still made Little Buckeye a part of kids’ lives by providing Buckeye bags to the NECIC.
“Now more than ever, children need a safe place to play and to learn, and we've tried to provide that how we can during this time,” Hammond said.
Play is an excellent tool for children to deal with stress and their environment. During the pandemic, the need has been much stronger. Boll hopes that once a vaccine comes and it’s safe again, they can help build on the development that children have missed out on throughout 2020.
“It's a balance of safety for the short term, and then there's long term development,” Boll said. “So yes, we're in that phase of safety for the short term, but the need for the museum is going to be there when people come out of COVID. Kids are going to need that play and that release time.”
Boll and Hammond are looking forward to 2021 and have fully prepared for whatever comes their way. At the new location, there will be enough space for child programs unlike ever before at the Little Buckeye location. Hammond said the increased programming is going to be “really valuable to help kids socialize and start to learn the rules of like a classroom” as well as communicate and share with others.
Little Buckeye has always been a supporter of giving back to the community. Their contributions have led to other organizations following suit.
Christine Myers, founder of The Visual Bucket List Foundation, had met Boll through Leadership Unlimited after a visit to the museum itself. Upon learning about all that Little Buckeye has done to give back, she was inspired to make Visual Bucket List into more than what it was in the past.
“He has helped us with our foundation,” Myers said. “He guided us on some things that we need like Richland Gives and so forth, because we were newbies. So he has been a huge asset in helping us navigate the nonprofit world.”
Myers has a “passion” for what Little Buckeye brings to the community. She and her husband have made contributions in the past to the facility such as building the firetruck for the fire station exhibit as well as working with Ohio Eye and sponsoring the St. Peters exhibit.
“I think (Little Buckeye) is a great asset for our kids,” Myers said. “Imaginative play is so important. I love what Fred does, and I think it's unique and fun for area children, so through all of this, Fred and I have kind of gained a friendship.”
Myers’ kids, 7 and 10, have used Little Buckeye to build their social and problem-solving skills. It’s enhanced their behavior in terms of interacting with others, learning how to get along and how to share.
As someone who knows single handedly the importance of making a difference in a child’s life, Myers hopes that the contributions Visual Bucket List and Little Buckeye have made don’t go unrecognized.
“Little Buckeye enables kids to really do imaginative play, which is one of the best ways for them to learn,” Myers said. “It's how they learn to grow socially, emotionally and mentally. It's where they are free to kind of develop at their own pace.”
Giving Tuesday takes place on Dec. 1. To make a donation to Little Buckeye, visit www.richlandgives.mightycause.com.