Advocate editorial board: Let's discover how to save children's museum

Sept. 29, 2012 at 4:29 a.m.

Children's Discovery Museum of the Golden Crescent board members gathered Friday to talk about how to save the community's financially strapped treasure.

As they talked enthusiastically about their resolve to keep the museum open, a little girl and her father wandered in. Told the center was closed temporarily, the girl puffed out her lower lip and lowered her eyes.

This sad scene is being played out repeatedly, but we have the power to return smiles to the faces of our children. Since news broke last week that the museum might have to move from its downtown location of 10 years, board members already have received an anonymous donation large enough to pay the salary of a new executive director.

They hope this new director will lead the effort to keep the museum open for another 10 years and beyond. The museum opened in 2002 at 204 N. Main St. on the DeLeon Plaza after years of hard work and planning.

The vision began back in 1996 when University of Houston-Victoria president Karen Haynes joined with education faculty members Jane Fry and Marie Plemons to explore the audacious idea of whether Victoria could support a children's museum. They soon found support from other community members, including Carole Oliphant, Betty Jo Elder, Penni Gietz, Sammie Sue Hendrix and LeOlive Rogge.

Their efforts took shape when they signed a contract with the Junior League for use of the downtown building and raised enough money to renovate the aging structure and bring new life to it. The Junior League was a key partner in this effort, leasing the building for only $1 a year.

Faced with its own financial obligations like many nonprofit organizations, the League is looking to sell the building now. That potential sale leaves the future of the children's museum in doubt.

Board members are quick to praise the Junior League's generous support during the past decade and say they understand why a sale is needed. They say they hope they can turn this crisis into an opportunity for the center.

Already, the promise of a new director has buoyed their spirits. They vow the center will reopen as scheduled in January and talk excitedly about two new exhibits planned for then.

The challenge they face is great, however. How do you find a better rent than free? Even with this deal, the museum has struggled every year to meet its annual operating budget of about $100,000 to $150,000.

To continue, board members and the new director will have to find community partners. Already, the board has talked with UHV and plans to meet soon with the Victoria Independent School District and Victoria College. They say they are open to any creative idea to keep the museum operating for the children of the Crossroads.

We encourage those with ideas, large or small, to contact the museum board. As a community committed to education, we would hate to lose this critical piece. The importance of early childhood education cannot be overstated.

The museum's mission bears repeating: to create dynamic educational experiences that foster lifelong learning for children and families through the joy of play.

Learning is joyful. Let's turn that little girl's frown upside down.



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