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Museum celebrates first birthday

Kelly Silva

— Nearly one year ago, Hands-On! Children’s Museum was opening its doors to a world that children only create in their imaginations.

It’s not a day care or a preschool but something such as an amusement park for children, which gives them a hands-on educational and entertaining experience. Parents who find place-based education crucial in a child’s development can find theme rooms such as Life on the Ranch, the Final Frontier and the Construction Zone.

And while Hands-On! extends an invitation to the public to visit the museum and celebrate its first birthday, volunteers and board members are hoping money raised through the birthday party’s silent auction will help them find a new home for parents and children to connect.

Tibby Speare, executive director of the museum, said the museum would be open until the end of March. The museum still will be taking memberships at a prorated discount.

Part of the money raised through the silent auction at the birthday party will fund the first-quarter rent and will go toward a fund in renting or purchasing a new building.

“We do fund-raising all year long, but we need to get more aggressive,” Speare said.

For 16 months, Joe and Camillia McKenzie have donated their building on Eighth Street for Hands-On! to do more than just plan a children’s museum

They gave them the opportunity to begin a business that would enlighten the lives of children and parents, Speare said.

“While we do have to leave the building, we are so grateful for the donated building that gave us wings to grow,” said Jennie Fuhrer, who co-chairs of the event with Jill Strauss-Waldman.

The birthday bash will include pizza and popcorn for the children who are upstairs watching a movie while hors d’ oeuvres and cocktails will be served to adults participating in the silent auction.

Speare and Fuhrer said silent auction items have come from local businesses as well as individuals wanting to help out.

Speare said the children’s museum has served more than 7,000 visitors since its opening Dec. 6, 2000.

“Either single parents or two working parents have really precious leisure time. (The museum) is keeping families connected,” Speare said. “Parents are partners with their children.”

Not only is the museum a place for children to play but a way for them to have fun while learning, Fuhrer said.

“The kids can go with it where they want,” Fuhrer said of the various activities. “The different rooms and (equipment) help guide them to different levels.”

About 10 years ago, Speare said she visited a children’s museum on the East Coast and thought it would fit perfectly in a town such as Steamboat Springs.

For three years, an advisory board met to understand the intricacies of a child’s world and to help them learn for the adult world.

“This is the fastest-growing culture institution in the world,” Speare said of children’s museums. “It’s an international phenomenon.”

Speare said of all the children’s museums in the world, only about 6 percent are in rural communities such as Steamboat.

And having a children’s museum in Steamboat has reaped benefits compared to other rural towns because of the large tourism boom during the winter.

Although the museum is targeted at newborns to children up to age 10, Speare said she’s seen older children enjoy the activities as well.

Winter is the most financially lucrative time of the year for the museum because of the weather, Speare said.

With the future move in store, Speare said she hopes the children’s museum will only move forward to bigger and better things.

“I want to build a lifelong connection with the community and the world,” Speare said. “Especially now since Sept. 11, it just starts to hit home to us how important learning and playing together is.”


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