I read Bruce Rushton's opinion piece, Good news, bad news, expecting to read both good and bad news about Kidzeum. Unfortunately, he chose to present only bad news. The city council recently approved adding $50,001 for Kidzeum to the city's budget after nearly 90 minutes of discussion. I provided testimony as the newly elected volunteer board president of Kidzeum. Rushton presented half of the story; readers deserve to hear the other half.

I rely on Illinois Times as a credible source of information about community issues. Rushton quoted me, but these snippets don't adequately convey my remarks to the city council. Here I am sharing comments Executive Director Leah Wilson and I presented that put my quotes in context. Anyone interested can listen to the council proceedings online to judge for oneself.

Leah and I acknowledged Kidzeum's fiscal challenges and some reasons why. We are committed to transparency and are not hiding our challenges. I was quoted as saying it would be easy for Kidzeum to fail. Left out was what I said next. The challenge to succeed and rise up to that challenge are the reasons I agreed to become board president in January. It is the reason we have other dedicated board members and community leaders working with us.

Collectively, we are doing everything in our power to help Kidzeum succeed. That is the good news left untold. I didn't agree to be board president to ask for a handout from the city for a failing institution. I agreed to join Leah and our dedicated team to build strong partnerships and make Kidzeum a vital contributor to the educational pipeline, a leader in early childhood education, a resource for STEM education, an integral part of tourism and an asset to attract people to live and play downtown. We are actively engaged in conversations with the school district, the community foundation, University of Illinois Springfield, Downtown Springfield, Inc. and others to explore how Kidzeum can be a critical resource, contributing to broader community initiatives.

We are evaluating our operations and making changes in response to what we have learned after being open less than two years. Kidzeum made several adjustments. We brought on new board members and are committed to best practices. These individuals are bringing new ideas, skills and resources. We are launching STEM/STEAM programs that will generate revenue. We are partnering with the Illinois Math and Science Academy, Museum of Science and Industry, Eaton Engineers and Springfield Park District to offer high quality after-school and summer educational experiences. Grants from the Community Foundation Young Philanthropists and Rotary are making content-rich educational programs accessible to children who might not have the opportunity otherwise.

Kidzeum's leaders are committed to diversity. We agree we need to do more. But, it is inaccurate to portray Kidzeum as having an audience with no diversity. Diversity, inclusion and accessibility are priorities in our strategic planning now underway.

We are committed to working with the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau, being a valued attraction for families visiting Springfield and capturing more school tours. However, garnering more of the school tour market is complex and not a panacea. I know this from firsthand experience working at the Illinois State Museum for many years. There are more attractions in Springfield than schools can visit in one day. Students come to Springfield because we are the home of Lincoln and the State Capitol. Adding a trip to a children's museum is no guarantee. Focusing on attracting school tours within an hour's drive for a robust educational experience may be far more effective.

We know our visitors value Kidzeum. Of those surveyed, 95 percent believe Kidzeum is an important addition to downtown. Several council members reinforced that perspective. We appreciate knowing people want Kidzeum to succeed. Alternatively, if the perception is Kidzeum won't make it, we may not. But, it is important to tell a complete story and what the vision is for the future. There is already good news. We are optimistic there will be more good news in the future.

The $50,001 from the city won't solve all of our issues. But, it will help grow a foundation of support as we continue to engage the community in what Kidzeum could be for Springfield. If you want to join us in writing the other half of the story, we'd love to hear from you.

Contact Karen Witter at kawitter13@gmail.com

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