Children’s museum receives grant

Few organizations will ever need to decide what they should do with $132,000. A grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) has given Lynchburg’s Amazement Square the opportunity to make that decision, making them one of only three Virginia museums to receive an IMLS grant this year.

Fun and fit — Lynchburg’s Amazement Square has educated and entertained children since 2001. Photo credit: Greg Leasure

Dedicated to interactively educating and entertaining children, Amazement Square will use the $132,944 grant to further their “Balance: Healthy Mind and Body” initiative. They plan to tear out the third floor of their 4-floor, Downtown Lynchburg museum in order to create a health-focused educational exhibit.

“We’re working on having a positive spin on making healthy choices, and the whole idea is about balance,” Amazement Square Director of Marketing Ashleigh Karol said. “It’s just about making the right choices and having a balanced, healthy lifestyle.”

The new exhibit will be 2,700 square feet and will open in 2014 after the existing health-based exhibit closes in the summer of 2013. The existing exhibit is also health-related, but the new exhibit will provide a new focus on the subject.

“The exhibit focuses on three components: nutrition, exercise and making sure you take care of your body,” Karol said. “It will really show how to make healthy choices and how those choices will affect your life overall.”

IMLS awarded 152 grants this year, including six museum grants within the state of Virginia, which totaled just under $500,000.

According to Karol, the folks at Amazement Square are excited about what they could do with the money. However, this type of grant mandates that the organization match the amount of money they are given. That means Amazement Square is faced with the task of raising $132,000 on their own.

“We depend solely on corporate and individual donations…. They are what will help us meet the one-to-one requirement,” Karol said. “Donors are extremely important, and we’re very fortunate to live in a community that gives wholeheartedly.”

According to Karol, the grant helps Amazement Square accomplish its goals, but the “Balance” initiative will cost about $600,000 when everything is done. That’s why donors are so important.

Developing health-related programs to go along with the new exhibit is also an important part of the new initiative, and that is where members of the community and Centra Health come in. Centra has even contributed a $25,000 grant toward the project.

“We’ve been meeting with a health advisory committee, which includes pediatricians, pediatric cardiologists, members of the Centra Health staff and school nurses from the Lynchburg city school system,” Karol said. “We’re getting their input because they’re working with children and families, seeing the problem firsthand. We’re just asking what we can do to respond to those needs.”

Located at 27 Ninth St. in Downtown Lynchburg, Amazement Square does educate about health, but some of the most popular exhibits are found in other areas of the museum.

The paint box, a small room made entirely of glass, allows children to paint on the walls. A model of Lynchburg’s James River flows through one corner of the fourth floor, showing children how the river affects the weather patterns of the Hill City, and children can even create their own rainstorm. Other popular attractions are a zip line, a bug exhibit (complete with a scorpion and a tarantula) and a tower full of tubes to crawl through.

The “Balance” initiative will not be completed until mid-2014, but that has not stopped Amazement Square from working to help every child to “reach their full potential.” Now, with the help of IMLS, they are one step closer to reaching that goal.

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