Hands On! A Child’s Gallery greets 250,000th visitor


Posted Feb 26, 2017 BlueRidgeNow.com

By Stephen KindlandTimes-News correspondent

Hundreds of children learn while playing at Hands On! every year, but Rebecca Storey, a teacher and mother of 23-month-old Jacqueline, was surprised to hear on Thursday that she was the interactive museum’s 250,000th visitor.

“This is great,” Storey said after Hands On! founder and Executive Director Heather Boeke presented her and Jacqueline with gift baskets inside the brightly painted learning center on North Main Street.
“We’re having a birthday party here next week for Jacqueline,” Storey said, still smiling as her daughter toddled off to play. “She loves painting. Oh, and the Play-doh.”

Hands On! is a not-for-profit children’s gallery that opened 10 years ago, when Boeke (pronounced bo-key) and her husband, David, yearned to take their three children to an early learning center similar to what they had seen in Chicago and other cities.

“I just saw great value in them,” Boeke said. “We were frustrated with the lack of educational (opportunities) and family oriented activities in this community back then.”

Rather than complain, Boeke established her own early learning facility by surrounding herself with “all the right people” — people who helped her plan and design a 5,600-square-foot center that features a waterfall beneath a walkable bridge, a tunnel slide, a performance stage and a make-believe grocery store.

Hands On! has grown from a handful of adults and children to more than 800 active members representing an estimated 220 families, according to Boeke.

“I’m not an educator,” Boeke said. “I’m an organizer. It was an educated risk, and what I found out is that this community is incredibly generous. People here are very willing to help.”

After negotiating a mortgage deal that included deferred payments on the principal for the first six years, Boeke’s business soon caught on. While memberships were being sold, private individuals and businesses began supporting the museum with donations.
Fundraisers soon followed, including the Mad Mountain Mud Run, an annual event in Hendersonville that covers a significant amount of the museum’s $370,000 per year operating costs.

A scholarship for low-income families also has been established, and as the museum begins outgrowing its space, new and innovative outreach programs are being developed, including “Mad Scientists On Wheels,” a traveling science show that visits schools, libraries, hospitals and other venues.

Such progress continues as children and their parents or guardians — who pay annual memberships ranging from $70 to $200 — visit the museum daily, often taking part in organized sessions such as MakerSpace, a program that recently received a $4,000 grant from the Duke Energy Foundation.


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