WRITTEN BY Sarah DuBose
PHOTOGRAPHY BY Children’s Museum of the East End
Empowered by their disappointment, eight moms wanted to take action to create more educational opportunities for their children. Gathered around a kitchen table in 1997, on the East End of Long Island, they discussed the idea of what is now known as the Children’s Museum of the East End (CMEE).
These moms had a vision for this children’s museum: to cultivate and foster creativity, imagination, and a sense of community for their children through playful learning. Today, CMEE offers a wide variety of educational programs for children of all backgrounds and abilities. These programs include family events, workshops, field trips, classes, and a teen service program.
Understanding that many families lack access to transportation or encounter other obstacles which prevent them from traveling to the Museum, CMEE has partnered with dozens of local social service organizations to fill in the gaps. These partnerships allow programming and Museum resources to be brought directly into the community. The Children’s Museum of the East End is dedicated to ensuring no one is left out from the opportunities they provide.
“To help the Museum make sure we are welcoming to everybody, we have created several advisory groups that involve Latinx parents, families with children with special needs, and other underserved communities,” explains Steve Long, President of CMEE.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, CMEE has developed and expanded various programs in order to continuously meet the growing needs of the families they serve. In order to truly understand the needs and prioritize them, the organization reached out to the families to learn more about their specific desires.
“Because there was no guidebook for what museums should do in a pandemic, our staff organized an online survey to learn how we could continue serving the needs of our members, especially those who are most vulnerable,” says Long.
The survey results revealed that the majority of families were unemployed, struggling to put food on the table. And as Long explains, “If children can’t eat, they can’t play and learn.” So, CMEE took action and launched an array of emergency initiatives to support families and aid in coping with the pandemic crisis. Committed to serving their community, the Museum introduced a weekly food pantry, serving over 70 families, along with online educational programs and family support group meetings via Zoom.
After the Children’s Museum was forced to close its doors to the public due to COVID-19, CMEE invested significant time and energy into these virtual programs to ensure the success for the children. CMEE began offering online science programs and a virtual reading club to prevent the “summer slide.” Additionally, the Museum organized a group of children to work with Roz Dimon, a digital artist, to create LA VIDA EN TIEMPOS DE COVID, a digital collage exploring the experience of local kids during the pandemic.
While these programs put in place by CMEE are crucial and relevant, the social connections created at the Museum impact the community the most. These connections provide families with the community, support, and hope for which they long.
“For Nancy T., a single mother who recently lost her job as a housecleaner, CMEE’s COVID response is providing a lifeline. Her two sons, ages 10 and 3, have participated in the Museum’s programming since they were born. After picking up their food at the Museum last week, Nancy’s younger son called Leah Oppenheimer, the Museum’s Director of Community Outreach. While the purpose of the call was to say thank you, he really wanted to describe how much he missed seeing her at the Children’s Museum,” explains Long.
Since August 3, CMEE has reopened to the public at 20% capacity. Visitors receive their own set of exhibit objects, and all toys and props are sanitized after use. The Museum’s cleaning protocols extend well beyond what the CDC recommends.
Even through the challenges of the pandemic, the Children’s Museum of the East End has remained devoted to their original mission of cultivating and fostering creativity, imagination, and a sense of community for children through playful learning. The Museum continues to create a productive and welcoming environment for families and children in need. Back in 1997, those eight moms could not have imagined what a significant and positive impact their connection to each other and to this vision would have on the community in the East End of Long Island.