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Children’s museum turns one


By Chris Gigley

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – The Children’s Museum of Winston-Salem had a busy first year.

The 26,000-square-foot museum welcomed about 9,000 children on field trips, hosted more than 400 birthday parties and had 79,000 admissions.

And its community outreach program drew 10,000 children who otherwise could not afford admission.

As it begins its second year, the museum plans to focus on marketing and fundraising, says Gail Chavis, executive director.

Formed by the Junior League of Winston-Salem to commemorate its 75th anniversary and give back to the community, the museum has benefited from the help of 25 part-timers and 50 volunteers.

The League leases headquarters space at the museum and organizes the museum’s annual fundraiser, Storybook Gala, which was held November 5.

The museum has a theme of children’s literature that reflects the League’s main cause, child literacy, and that sets it apart from other museums, Chavis says.

The museum, she says, is one of the few to have storybooks and literature-based exhibits such as a Jack and the Beanstalk climbing structure.

In 2005, the museum secured a grant from the Association of Children’s Museums and The Freeman Foundation for the museum’s first traveling exhibit, “Hmong at Heart.”

The exhibit, which opened in October and runs through January 22, showcases China’s Hmong people, who were displaced during the Vietnam War and have been coming to the U.S. since.

“North Carolina has the fourth-largest population of Hmong in the U.S., and most of them live in Hickory,” says Chavis.

Securing the exhibit while handling the daily traffic was a challenge for a staff of just six full-time employees, none of whom had worked in a children’s museum.

Chavis, for example, was the director of children’s ministries at First United Methodist Church in Orlando, a stay-at-home mom and a fundraiser for the American Heart Association before landing at the museum.

In 2006, she says, marketing will be the main goal.

She and Ellen Schuette director of development and marketing, have taken steps to reach out to more families in Forsyth and Guilford counties.

In recent months, for example, the museum has done some advertising and hosted a monthly “lunch-and-learn” session, inviting people to visit and learn about its programs.

“We ask them who else would like to hear about what we’re doing,” she says, “and then invite those people.”

As a result of distributing “wish lists” at those hour-long lunch events, she says, the museum has received a fax machine, coffee maker and other items.

The museum also has received plenty of good ideas, she says.

The lunches will culminate in a lunchtime fundraiser in the spring designed to address the museum’s other challenge for 2006.

The museum has a fundraising goal of $300,000 in its second year.

“Fundraising is always a challenge,” Chavis says. “We’re doing okay, but there is always more that we’d like to do.”

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