In my position as the Director of Communications for the Foundation, I am privileged to tell the stories of how our grantees benefit southwest Iowans. In the past two years, I’ve written about a single mom who earned her undergraduate and master’s degrees thanks to a STARS scholarship, the Food Bank for the Heartland’s backpack program that sends meals home with children who might not otherwise have food to eat on the weekends, and the CITIES program, which helps rural Pottawattamie County communities with much-needed infrastructure improvements.
Earlier this year, I got to experience a “Grant at Work” first-hand when I chaperoned my daughter’s field trip to the Omaha Children’s Museum. The museum recently received a $40,000 grant from the Iowa West Foundation to provide field trips and reduced rate memberships to more than 600 Pottawattamie County families who qualify.
“Our mission is to spark a love for learning and when we see the excitement in the eyes of children and families on a field trip here, we know we’re doing our job,” said Jeff Barnhart, Chief Museum Officer. “Iowa West Foundation’s grant has made it have an impact on the lives of thousands of young children and families in Pottawattamie County.”
The grant allows for every kindergartener in Pottawattamie County –there are more than 2,000- to attend a school field trip to the museum, or for the museum to come to their classrooms. That number included my kindergartener, 21 of her classmates and three other kindergarten classes at College View Elementary School.
Of the girls in our group, one had a membership to the museum, one had never been there before and the others had been there just a handful of times. For those who’ve never been, the Omaha Children’s Museum is a place where children can discover how the world works through play. It is the region’s only museum devoted to offering experiential learning for children from six months to eight years.
“The Omaha Children’s Museum offers an outstanding experience that reinforces play-based learning for our community’s youngest children,” said Kathleen Rapp, Vice President of Grants and Initiatives at Iowa West Foundation. “Play is essential to early learning and the main way young children learn and develop ideas about the world around them.”
Upon arrival, our group headed straight for the Imagination Station, where they used their fine motor skills to explore the fine art of face paint. One little girl used her entire face as a canvas.
Next, it was on to the Hy-Vee grocery store for some pretend play. There, the little shoppers packed their carts full of healthy foods. Using an interactive light up rainbow feature, the exhibit teaches children the importance of eating colorful food, i.e. fruits and vegetables via sorting activities. How cool is that?
Soon, we were upstairs experiencing the Super Powers temporary exhibit, where the girls took turns finding their inner super hero by zooming down the zip line and scaling towers in a scene straight out of a comic book. You could see their confidence soar after a few successful trips down the zip line. “Again! Again!” they shouted.
The group took a break to ride the carousel and train and as they rode, one of the moms told me her daughter liked the Omaha Children’s Museum more than the one in Chicago. That’s quite the compliment for our region. And how wonderful that she got to experience it as part of her school day with friends. The girls gave this field trip two very enthusiastic thumbs up.