Recent donations have catapulted Great River Children’s Museum more than halfway to its fundraising goal

New construction is within sight

Design rendering of the Headwaters exhibit sponsored by Cross Works Foundation

Recent donations have brought Great River Children’s Museum’s capital campaign efforts to more than $8.2 million, more than halfway to the campaign goal.

“We are beyond thrilled to reach this milestone,” said Cassie Miles, executive director of Great River Children’s Museum (GRCM). “Our next milestone is $10.5 million – which we hope to reach before year’s end – so we can begin construction.”

Recent donations include $2.5 million from Cross Works Foundation, $500,000 from an anonymous donor, $500,000 from Joyce and Tom Schlough, $250,000 from Dr. John and Joyce Matsuura, and $250,000 from Minnwest Bank.

GRCM currently is in the fundraising phase of museum development with a current campaign goal of $13.5 million. To date, more than 250 organizations and individuals have donated or pledged their financial support to bring the second largest children’s museum in Minnesota to our region. Coborn’s Family Foundation as well as Barbara and Rollie Anderson sponsored the museum’s first two core exhibits, Climber to the Clouds and Great Big River, each for $1 million.

At the same time, GRCM is working with three exhibit companies to finalize designs and begin fabricating core museum exhibits. Interior demolition of the museum’s 25,000-square-foot facility in downtown St. Cloud began in December 2021. More than 21 tons of demolition debris was recycled or salvaged as the museum gears up for the construction phase.

“Our volunteer team has been working tirelessly the past two years to bring necessary funds in the door,” Miles said. “The passion and enthusiasm for this project becomes more and more pronounced as we close in on the reality of starting construction. We are always looking for more volunteers to help us raise the additional funds.”

About Great River Children’s Museum

Learning together as we go

By Jane Ellison, GRCM board member and volunteer

Great River Children’s Museum offered a Play, Explore and Learn (PEL) Lab for Somali families on October 8 at our downtown building. This was a rich co-learning experience, where families learned about the children’s museum and children’s learning through play. GRCM volunteers listened to suggestions for the future museum and were able to field test a welcoming display of cultural fabrics, carvings, metalwork, and local artwork.

The PEL Lab offered activities one might find in the future exhibits, and efforts were made to integrate Somali materials, such as hijabs for the baby dolls and children’s books in English and Somali.

The program included time for parents and children to play together, storytelling, snack and play for children while parents learned about museum plans and gave input on ways to incorporate Somali culture into the Community Connections exhibit. The PEL Lab closed with a multi-cultural music performance by the Lullaby Singers for parents and children together. The singing experience was SO enjoyable – some children brought the baby dolls to hold on their laps while listening to the music and a few of the parents joined the performers in a fun sing-a-long.  Everyone left with smiles.  No wonder music is a universal language.

GRCM volunteers were impressed with the kindness and cooperation among the fifteen children from 8 mos. – 13 years. Older children included and helped younger children, independently creating an amazing bus big enough for all – with a door that opened and closed, and an awesome steering wheel.

We are continuing to learn from the wider community that has much to offer the museum with its talents, ideas, creativity, support and encouragement. Many thanks to the Cultural Navigators Anisa and Naima, video production team Mohamed (XIDIG TV) and Bashir (C.A.I.R.O.), volunteers, and the Lullaby Singers!

Improving Mental Health Through Play

Reviewed by Vincent Miles, PsyD LP; Jane Ellison, LMFT; Jill Amsberry, DO; Bruce Broman, MD; and Barbara Skodje-Mack, EdD, LMFT

The modern children’s museum is a place of wonder, a place of awe, a place of fun, and a place of playful learning. As a location separate from home and from school, this “third-space” creates an environment that is rich with the many childhood needs of healthy growth and development as well as a space for family and community to come together. One benefit of this unique environment is how it strengthens mental health and physical wellness by providing a space that is active, engaging, joyful, socially interactive, iterative and meaningful.1

While the primary effects are on the children who enter the doors, the secondary effects of these benefits can be traced to the family and back into the Central Minnesota community as a whole. The wellbeing of our next generation will undoubtedly reverberate in all of our lives.

In recent years childhood stressors have been increasing2 and with the effect of the pandemic a tremendous burden has been placed on children, families, and our healthcare systems. This is, in part, evidenced by the extended wait times and high numbers of children on waitlists for mental health services throughout our 12 county region. The importance of play is growing and community demand for healthy spaces for childhood development is at an all-time high.

The physical and mental health benefits of play are well documented.3 4 5 In addition to encouraging healthy physical development, Great River Children’s Museum will reinforce the long-term socio-emotional benefits provided by play-rich environments by: supporting healthy relationships, strengthening core life skills, reducing sources of toxic stress, fostering creativity, and developing mental flexibility, understanding, and acceptance.

1 Hirsh-Pasek, K., et al. (2020). A new path to education reform: playful learning promotes 21st century skills in school and beyond. Brookings Institute, Policy Brief. 2 Twenge, J. M., et al. (2019). Age, period, and cohort trends in mood disorder indicators. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 128(3), 185-199. 3 Yogman, M., et al. (2018) The Power of Play: A Pediatric Role in Enhancing Development in Young Children. Pediatrics, 142(3). 4 White, R. E. (2012). The power of play: A research summary on play and learning. Minnesota Children’s Museum. 5 MuseumNext (2022). The role of museums in supporting the wellbeing of children and families. Retrieved August 2022 from www.museumnext.com

Organic ways to grow and connect

This summer we’ve been able to connect with children, families, and community members in our region outside of St. Cloud. Families and caregivers are excited to learn that a children’s museum is coming to Central Minnesota! Through our partnership with Great River Regional Library, and through visits to various farmers markets, we’ve been able to provide simple and interactive programming for kids and their caring adults to enjoy and learn through play. 

Farmers markets are a great way to meet neighbors in your community. Supporting your local farmers market is an important piece of community involvement too. Not only are you getting fresh and nourishing food that you need, but you’re also connecting with local growers!

The farmers market is a great place to learn where your food comes from and how it’s grown by simply chatting with the farmers and growers. You can ask them where the food gets planted, how long it takes to grow, when it was picked, and more. Sometimes, they might even have recipes and cooking ideas to share. After all, they’re the ones who are there from seed to sprout!

Taking a walk through the farmers market is a great way to learn more about your community and those around you. It can be a great place to try new foods, learn about local arts and trades, and meet new people. For some kids, farmers markets can be a more comfortable environment to experiment with food, ask questions, and in our case spend some time playing while learning about Great River Children’s Museum.

We’re designing an exhibit space that will celebrate the diversity of Central Minnesota’s communities through art, food, and music. The goal is to demonstrate that even though we’re all different and come from different backgrounds or cultures, we are all connected. Community Connections will include a Global Market to explore food, spices, and more from different cultures and parts of the world. You and the kids you love will be able to explore various scents by smelling spices, textures by touching food, and colors and sizes by assembling flower bouquets and sorting produce.

We want to thank all of the local farmers markets that have allowed us to be there with a fun and engaging experience for children and their caring adults. We’ve met and connected with so many amazing people!

Not your everyday PLAY: Our adventures at ACM and AAM

Last week, museum staff ventured out to attend the Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) and the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) conferences as a way to connect with other museums and gain more insight about the ever-changing industry.

Program and Outreach Manager, Kylie headed off to St. Louis, Missouri for InterActivity 2022 ACM annual conference. This year’s theme, PLAY The Long Game, explored how to adjust to today’s dynamics, while also preparing for the future of serving the many generations of children and families ahead. It was held at the St. Louis Children’s Museum, also known as “The Magic House.” The conference included an emerging museums track, which was especially beneficial to us in our pre-construction state.

Kylie teamed up with Exhibit Designer, Betsy Loring, of expLoring exhibits & engagement and Game and Experience Designer, Greg Trefry, of Gigantic Mechanic to host a session on Role Play Games (RPG) in museum settings and how it can help to spark children’s creativity and encourage collaboration. Kylie shared ideas around how RPGs can expand programming for older children (and even adults!) in a children’s museum setting. Since there are many other benefits to RPGs like imaginative learning and communication skills, they can be adjusted to use for a variety of audiences. 

Executive Director, Cassie and Social Media Coordinator, Jessica attended the AAM annual MuseumExpo conference held in Boston this year. The focus was on organizational culture, innovation, museums in society, and financial wellness. Much like ACM, this convention is filled with museum professionals who have created solutions for some of the most challenging behind the scenes and public facing issues we face everyday on a much broader scale. 

Our very first session was held at the Boston Children’s Museum where we were tasked with designing a prototype exhibit themed around music and culture. The goal was to encourage connection and self-expression while keeping inclusion and accessibility at the forefront. This session was followed by some ‘research’ (aka playing) at the children’s museum and was a great way to start off the weekend! 

We were thrilled to attend an in-person (finally!) conference this year to hear stories and experiences from other museums. Here’s to a great year ahead and looking forward to attending, and maybe even presenting, again next year!

A Great (River!) Partnership

Great River Children’s Museum and Great River Regional Library share a common goal to spark curiosity and learning while encouraging the exploration of new ideas.

Over the next year, Great River Children’s Museum and Great River Regional Library are proud to be bringing the communities of Central Minnesota a small glimpse of the future of Great River Children’s Museum (“GRCM”) through Pop-up Exhibit Experiences hosted by libraries around the region! This is the perfect opportunity to share the potential of future museum exhibits, programming, and experiences with those we look forward to serving in our region.

The library’s goal to have a patron-centered organization is an excellent fit with the museum’s plan to bring play and exploration to Central Minnesota’s children and families. 

“The library has specific goals to try new ideas, innovate, and create partnerships that promote libraries and their services, so this feels like a natural extension of key parts of our goals,” says GRRL’s Beth Stolpman.

Great River Children’s Museum aspires to be a place where there is something for everyone and all are welcome, much like Great River Regional Library. Our goal is to bring awareness to those in our region who may not know we are in development. Library patrons outside of the St. Cloud metro area will get a sneak peek of what the future holds for Great River Children’s Museum through displays and exhibit related programming in the familiarity of their local library.

GRRL Librarian Jade Lauber, said, “We are so excited to have the opportunity to have the pop-up exhibits from Great River Children’s Museum! These exhibits will give our patrons the chance to experience what the museum has to offer, and will be an excellent addition to our summer programming. This year, we have a lot of outdoor, nature, and camping activities tying into our annual Summer Reading Program, ‘Read Beyond the Beaten Path.’ We can’t wait to see how well the museum’s Pop-up Exhibit Experiences compliment our existing library resources and programs, and how our patrons will interact with the exhibits!”

Cohort 1 of the Pop-up Exhibit Experiences begin Sunday, May 1 2022 at these Great River Regional Library locations: Annandale, Becker, Clearwater, Paynesville, Pierz, Richmond, and Swanville.

GRCM will also be taking part in this years Llama Llama Pajama Party at the St. Cloud Great River Regional Library on May 10th from 5-7pm. Come by to chat with us and enjoy an activity as well as a coloring contest, storytime, prizes, and more provided by United Way of Central Minnesota, GRRL, and others.

We look forward to connecting with the patrons of Great River Regional Library and to all future partnership opportunities that will support children, their families, and their love of learning through play!

From poultry to play, family connection continues within our walls

Don Helgeson and Sue Shepard have announced a leadership gift to Great River Children’s Museum for sponsorship of the Temporary Gallery. A space for traveling exhibits, expanded programming, and innumerable projects and works of art from around Central Minnesota to be shared! 

The Gallery is an important feature of the future children’s museum. It is especially important to Don and Sue because, like the building that Great River Children’s Museum resides in, it will always be changing and evolving into something different. Our building in downtown St. Cloud has been everything from a chicken hatchery to an athletic center. The one constant has been the Helgeson family’s connection to this space. 

The building began as Jack Frost Hatchery and Liberty Loan and Thrift founded in 1934 by Don’s father, Elmer “Mike” Helgeson. Mike wanted to help the farmers in the area by creating finance solutions. This would allow farmers to purchase chicks on installment payment plans. At the time it was a revolutionary way of doing business and proved to be very successful. By 1939, Liberty Loan and Thrift expanded to begin financing cars and farm machinery.

Circa 1941

Before his graduation in 1950 from what was then known as St. Cloud State Teachers College, Don decided that he would like to take over his father’s hatchery. He switched his focus and completed courses relating to farming and animals, specifically poultry. 

Don became a manager at the hatchery and was given opportunities to make important decisions. It was upon his suggestion that his father bought a farm near Mille Lacs Lake to start breeding chickens, feeding their own supply line. By the 1970’s, Don and his brother Jerry were partners and co-owners of the hatchery and loan business and their hard work saw the business evolve and the facility become a space used for a multitude of purposes.

In 1993 Don’s son, Michael (“Mike”) Helgeson, became CEO of the family business. In 2018 Liberty Bank moved to a new location and donated their downtown headquarters to the Great River Children’s Museum project for the benefit of the entire Central Minnesota community. Mike and his wife Karel Helgeson have served, and do serve, on the Board and Committees of Great River Children’s Museum and so it goes that the building remains a part of the wonderful Helgeson family legacy. 

“The Liberty building represents our family’s legacy and passions intersecting: the chicken business, banking business, appreciation and support for the arts, and giving back to the community.” -Don Helgeson in his book Gratitude.

We are incredibly grateful and excited that Don and Sue have chosen to play such an instrumental role in the transformation of our beautiful 111 7th Ave S. structure!

Experimenting with Imaginative Play at Camp Beyond

By Kylie Conover, Program & Outreach Manager

As the museum begins to take shape through the exhibit design process, so too are the programming components of the museum.

Museums are so much more than just the building and the exhibits themselves. Great River Children’s Museum plans on having additional, hands-on learning experiences including field trips and summer camps. 

At the beginning of August I was able to run a pilot summer camp program. I named this experiment Camp Beyond, because what I wanted was us to think past what traditional summer camps at museums often look like. I combined three different elements together for the curriculum of Camp Beyond; practicing social emotional learning skills, hands-ons imaginative play, and TableTop Role Playing Games.

What resulted was a week of absolute joy as I watched a group of campers work together through a series of challenges that culminated in overcoming a challenge and a pizza party at the park!

Over the course of the week GRCM hosted 10 Adventurers (campers), they were broken into groups of five and were led through various activities by their Adventure Guides (camp staff). The various activities included building a world narrative together, making a character and costume, building a cardboard fort, and lastly defeating the bad guy plaguing their world. 

According to our surveys, the day our adventurers got to create their hero personas was a huge highlight for them. Not only did they create their character, they were given the freedom to use cardboard, glue, fabric, and other materials to make a costume to become that character. To wrap up that day each camper got to use a program which allowed for them to create a 3-D model of their character which then got printed on our 3-D printer. 

A key part of Camp Beyond was providing a sense of community and agency among the Adventurers. At the beginning of the week we presented an open door policy, simply stated: If you need to take a moment (or many moments) away from the group you could. There was a space provided with a set of alternative activities that allowed for the camper to take time away if they needed it. This open door policy is a part of a toolkit that allows for each camper to have more agency throughout the programming. 

Ultimately, Camp Beyond was received favorably with requests from campers if they can come back and continue to be involved. I certainly can’t thank my adventurers and their adults more than I already have because they took a chance on a new camp at a not yet open museum.