The old saying of “all work and no play” doesn’t apply to this group.
They are all working so that kids will be able to play. And they said their work doesn’t seem like work at all.
“What I love about this endeavor is that it’s a lot of fun,” said Columbia Play Project vice chair Casey Wyckoff. “It doesn’t feel like work.”
Now is when the work really gets going. The newly formed nonprofit Columbia Play Project wants to create a program that will help get kids ages 12 and younger engaged through play, imagination and experiences.
Ultimately, Columbia Play Project would like to open a children’s museum in Clark County. It’s something that board chair Jeanne Bennett said would be a huge value to the community.
Bennett started thinking about this idea a decade ago. After retiring in 2018 from a career in government, education and workforce development, she was told to take her idea to Wyckoff. As it turned out, he had a similar vision.
“Columbia Play Project is something that is necessary in our community,” Bennett said. “We should have these resources in our own community. It’s time for that. Casey saw that need as well.”
A website (columbiaplayproject.org) was launched and the volunteer group of about 20 are working toward a design plan for at-home play kits as well as mobile exhibits that can visit parks, schools or clubs.
For instance, the group has a partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs and a mobile museum could make a stop there with features geared specifically for that group.
Wyckoff said Columbia Play Project has already developed a great relationship with the city of Vancouver and the school districts to help get the word out. They will also use various social media platforms.
“I’ve also talked with Fort Vancouver (National Historic Site) and they are excited because it fits with lots of work they are doing,” Bennett said.
Columbia Play Project envisions local sponsorships could help make mobile experiences free for participants.
“We may have a fee for public days, and we’ll do memberships like a classic museum,” Bennett said. “But we aren’t sure of a cost.”
The goal for 2021 is to raise $2 million by June through donations, philanthropy and fundraising events. Pursing money through grants or government agencies is a future endeavor.
“We really hope it’ll be a grass roots funding process,” Bennett said. “When we can afford to hire a staff, then we can turn our attention to local organizations and grants as well as state, federal and local funding.”
Helping other organizations
Columbia Play Project will benefit other organizations in the area.
“When you engage young minds in a facility like that, then families will feel comfortable taking their kids to other locations around the county,” Bennett said. “We can point them to local resources to learn more.”
For now, they are still in the first phase of the plan: getting the word out. The next phase is geared toward the at-home kits to provide play throughout the community that is adapted for COVID-19.
“It would be something delivered that families can do,” said Wyckoff, adding that the goal is to have the kits available by sometime in April.
The third phase is to get the mobile museum running by June or July. A design has not been finalized as of yet. Visions include a vehicle that could roll up and pop out tents for outdoor activities with social distancing in mind.
The big goal of a brick-and-mortar children’s museum is down the road in 2026. A possible $30 million price tag is money worth spending, says Bennett.
“It would be an inclusive and engaging facility that appeals to young people and their families so they can all play together and experience that joy of playing and exploring and, as my family likes to say, mucking about,” she said. “You figure out how this works and how that works and if you get messy, oh well. A really fun place.”