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Building a Dream

by Julie Clay

“IT'S OPEN.”

Say that to any parent or child in Collier County these days and they’ll know what you mean. After 10 years of dreaming, planning and building – and of course fundraising – the Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples is open for business!

So how do you go from a group of moms discussing the possibilities to a 30,000 square foot children’s dream come true? It starts by asking the community what they want. Heather Patton, Director of External Affairs at the Children’s Museum (C’mon) says, “People found us. When they started to hear about the museum they wanted to get involved. They called and willingly offered their input. We talked to them about things that they liked in other museums, what worked well, some of the things that they wished were in these museums. We toured other museums around the country.” A $5 million challenge grant from philanthropist and Paychex founder Tom Golisano in May 2010 helped to propel things toward completion. And along the way they talked to a lot of kids.

Patton shares how they asked their kid focus groups three key questions about what they would want to see in a children’s museum. “The first was ‘Think back to when you were six years old. Tell me something that you liked to do.’ We got all sorts of answers, like they loved to climb trees, rake leaves, and build forts. The second question was ‘If you could have anything and money was no issue, what are some of the things you would like to have?’ The third question was, ‘What makes Naples special?’ Everything that you can see

and do inside the museum relates to one of the answers that were given in some shape or form.”

From C’mon’s website, exhibit sketches provide an inside look at what awaits guests. Florida-themed centers like ‘At the Beach’ and ‘Journey Through the Everglades’ offer the chance to explore the inside of a 20-foot seashell or wander around an ancient mangrove. For Florida natives to whom cold weather is still somewhat of a mystery, C’mon offers a real igloo in the ‘Four Seasons’ exhibit. A refrigeration system similar to that of an ice rink keeps its snow and ice frozen. ‘Beautifully Outdoors’ offers children the chance to play in a backyard setting complete with a child-sized hedge maze as well as the ‘up-north’ experience of rolling down a hill!

Back here in Florida, one of the more

visually appealing, never mind fun areas of the museum, will no doubt be the banyan tree. At 30 feet wide and 45 feet tall, the banyan boasts 150 limbs, 350 branches and over 100,000 leaves. Patton shares, “It was made in California, but the company came down first and studied the banyan trees here. They looked at the root system and the leaves, and took pictures. Then they went back to California to make as realistic a tree as possible. Putting it together was like a huge puzzle. They worked with brooms, razor blades and sponges. It took over two years to build the tree. It even feels real.” Visit www.cmon.org for more information on the exhibits.

Behind the exhibits is this core principle, says Patton, “We bring every part of Southwest Florida to life, but what kids don’t always get is the real science and to learn what it is that they’re seeing. When they go to the beach they don’t think about the fish in the water and the right way to catch the fish. We’re going to have different field trips inside the museum, and maybe we’ll spend the afternoon in the Everglades inside the museum. But then we’ll take kids out to the Everglades to see real alligators in order to put the pieces together and make it all real. We encourage playing through learning and make it fun. We’ll educate ‘em through play and ‘trick ‘em’ into learning!”

The outside of C’mon is as visually appealing as the breadth of offerings inside. Following the rigorous permitting process for which Collier County is (in)famous, C’mon’s team broke ground in 2009, and the building slowly began taking its unique shape. Patton shares how the outside of the museum is also kid-inspired, “We had an architect do several different renderings of the museum. No one could ever pick one, so we sat down with a group of kids and asked them. Finally a little boy said, ‘Why do we have to pick just one?’ He actually sort of picked the pieces and parts of all the renderings. And that’s how we came up with what we’ve got today.”

Even before the museum was built, C’mon was busy in the community, conducting monthly educational programs at places like Waterside Shops and Bell Tower Shops, plus participating in numerous community events. “The Museum has really made the most of community outreach programs and staying visible while under construction,” says Patton, “We’ve already reached over 15,000 people in the community. We’re going to continue our work with community partners, including special nights for kids at Youth Haven and the Shelter for Abused Women and Children. Those things that we can’t do in the community anymore, we’ll bring those partners to us.”

Upcoming programs at C’mon include ‘Breaking the Barriers,’ designed for children with physical, developmental and behavioral challenges, which gives them time to get used to the Museum and prepare them for visiting with their family during regular Museum hours.

Adults even get in on the action with ‘Adults Only’ nights the second Thursday of each month. These nights will feature live bands as grownups rediscover the kid inside. The first adults only night is June 14. Like to dress up and support a good cause?

Celebrating the grand opening of the Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples is the Dream Gala being held March 23 at North Collier Regional Park. The 8th annual Yabba Island Pirate Ball will be at the Yabba Island Grill in Naples on April 25.

If you’re looking to get involved, volunteers are needed in every aspect of C’mon. From reading books to children to working in the Café or Museum store, there’s something for everybody. •


March-April 2012

Golisano
Children’s Museum
of Naples
North Collier Regional Park
15080 Livingston Rd.
Naples
just south of Immokalee Rd.
just west off I-75
Tue-Sat 9am-5pm & Sun 11am-4pm
514-0084

“We had an architect do
several different renderings
of the museum.
No one could ever
pick one, so we sat
down with a group of kids
and asked them.
Finally a little boy said,
‘Why do we have to
pick just one?’ And that’s
how we came up with
what we’ve got today.”
“The Museum has really
made the most of community outreach programs.
We’ve already reached
over 15,000 people
in the community.
We’re going to continue
our work with community
partners. Those things that
we can’t do in the community anymore, we’ll bring those
partners to us.”