Children's Museum rescue eyed

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WALLA WALLA — The Children’s Museum of Walla Walla, which is scheduled to close shop this Friday, may be getting a booster shot instead.

After the organization’s financial and other woes came to light earlier this month, museum board President Damien Sinnott got a call, he said today.

Sinnott said he learned local businessman Henry Savelesky was representing a group of people interested in taking over the bank account and board duties to keep the museum’s doors open.

The place for kids to learn and play opened in late 2004 to much community enthusiasm and participation. In recent years, however, the museum has struggled to stay financially afloat and has suffered a lack of volunteers, board members said earlier this month.

Now a group of several people, including Savelesky, is ready to step in and keep the doors open, Tara Crain said this morning.

After starting out as a volunteer, Crain served on the museum board for four years and managed the operation in 2009-2010, she said.

When Crain, Savelesky and others began putting out feelers into the community after a story appeared in the U-B, the response was immediate and large. “We’ve had 25 to 20 calls from people who want to help. Several businesses have contacted us and want to sponsor exhibits … a couple of businesses have said they will have a ‘Save the Museum’ event at Land Title Plaza,” she said. “A number of people have said (they) would love to donate gift baskets.”

All the offers came within five days of putting out the word, Crain said. “I have goose bumps right now. I just get this awesome feeling — all this bonding that happens inside those walls, between children and parents and grandparents. Because (kids) never have to be told ‘no.’ It’s all hands on.”

Outreach into the community will be vital to make children’s play continue, the group feels. “We’re hoping to work with AmeriCorps and Walla Walla University, not only students but teachers who want to serve on the board,” Crain said.

In its early years, the museum had community classes every Saturday, taught by area experts who wanted to further the museum’s mission. As well, the scholarship program was robust. She and others see no need to revamp that model, just revive it, Crain said.

It is up to the current board to make the next move, Savelesky said. “They want to close the museum, we want to keep it open.”

Founding member Cathy Mebes is in full support of the concept, she said in an email. “They bring much-needed passion and a positive attitude, which is critical. But they need help.”

People who want to keep the museum viable are hoping to gain support from the city of Walla Walla and the Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Mebes noted.

From the road, Sinnott said he can’t respond to that which isn’t known.

The museum board president is returning to Walla Walla after being out of the country and doesn’t have information on the group’s intention. As well, Savelesky would not or could not tell Sinnott who is part of the group moving to save the museum, Sinnott added.

Although Savelesky sent an email to other board members in his absence, urging them to take action, the board decided to wait until all members are present, Sinnott said. “And that doesn’t happen until tomorrow … As far as I know, we don’t have one scheduled, but my expectation is that we’ll have one this week. To be honest, I don’t know what we’ll be meeting on. I don’t have a plan and I don’t have a proposal.”

And those are important for any group looking to take over a nonprofit organization, Sinnott believes. “The museum is not failing because of a lack of enthusiasm or a lack of belief in the museum. I need more than just a group of people who are passionate about children, I’ve always said that.”

He believes the group has the best of intentions, he added. “I think they are going about it incorrectly, but I think their hearts are in the right place.”

It comes down to the clientele the museum serves, Savelesky said. “It’s for the kids, not the adults. I don’t give a hoot about the adults.”

While he doesn’t yet know about all the legal ramifications, this is a rescue operation, he explained. “It’s an asset for the community. It does really neat things for the kids, and if we don’t take care of our kids, I don’t know who is going to.”

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