Kids museum in Frankfort marks milestone with fundraising gala
By Ginger Brashinger Correspondent May 28, 2014 1:28PM
Steve Hogan (left), a member of the KidsWork Children's Museum's Gala Fundraiser committee, and Jeannine Skarbek-Kubas, the museum's board president, pose near one of the interactive music exhibits sponsored by Macy's. | Ginger Brashinger~For Sun-Times Media
If you go ...
What: KidsWork Children’s Museum Fundraising Gala
When: 7 to 10 p.m. June 7
Where: KidsWork Children’s Museum in the Trolley Barn, 11 S. White St., Frankfort
Cost: $75; includes one drink ticket
Information: RSVP requested by Sunday. Call (815) 469-1199 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Etc.: Family Birthday Party Palooza from 1 to 4 p.m. June 14 at the Founders Center, 140 Oak St., Frankfort. Tickets are $10. Information and/or tickets: www.kidsworkchildrensmuseum.org. Sponsorships for both events are still available.
Updated: June 30, 2014 11:39AM
The KidsWork Children’s Museum in Frankfort will hit a five-year milestone in June, an especially rewarding achievement for the 26 women who incorporated the nonprofit in 2009 with nothing to count on but their own resources.
Founder and former museum board president Gina Carrara said the museum started as an idea she had in 2007 when the antique market was leaving Frankfort and vacant buildings boded poorly for the village’s economy.
When Frankfort began looking for proposals for ways to fill a village-owned property downtown, Carrara, then the mother of a 10-year-old and a 5-year-old, began researching children’s museums. According to the data she found, children’s museums often become “town centers” that bring a community together and act as an economic anchor, Carrara said, “driving foot traffic into a downtown area.”
Carrara and 25 volunteer moms from the community met with her to discuss bringing a children’s museum to Frankfort. The group incorporated at its first meeting, eventually putting together a plan hoping for village support.
Carrara said they knew that “the best thing you can do as a children’s museum is to be owned by a public entity, such as a village or a park district,” Carrara said.
“We did make a pitch for the building, which we did not get, (so) we went out and fundraised.”
Hours of volunteer work by a cross section of members of the community, including village trustees and civil servants, resulted in enough funding and volunteer labor to completely renovate a 6,700-square-foot space in the Trolley Barn in the historic downtown district.
Jeannine Skarbek-Kubas, a founding member of the museum and the current president of the board, said five years later the museum is thriving in the village — but that it is much more than a village museum.
Skarbek-Kubas said 27,183 guests walked through the door in 2013, but only about 20 percent of them were Frankfort residents. The other 80 percent were mostly from the surrounding Lincoln-Way communities, plus Orland Park and Tinley Park.
“It really does show you that we are a Will County children’s museum,” Skarbek-Kubas said. “We’re not a Frankfort museum; we’re a Will County children’s museum.”
Skarbek-Kubas said the museum’s popularity may be due to the fact that it is not an “overwhelming” place for parents and grandparents to bring their young children.
“To me, there is a sense of security,” she said. “You can always get to your child. ... because you know where they’re at. Everything is very visual, very hands-on.”
The museum has two floors of interactive exhibits with themes ranging from creative play to technology for children from infancy to age 8. Weekly programs, special events and summer camp are offered, and groups can rent the facility for field trips or birthday parties.
The nonprofit wants to continue its mission to enrich the community, but meeting its considerable expenses with no public funding is a constant challenge, Skarbek-Kubas said. Those expenses include $65,000 in annual rent, and the thousands of dollars that even the small exhibits cost, Skarbek-Kubas said.
To add to the challenge, she said, many of the early sponsors have cut or eliminated their donations because of the economic downturn of the past few years.
The KidsWork Children’s Museum board is again looking to its own resources to meet its financial challenges with a Gala Fundraiser scheduled to be held at the museum and hosted by Frankfort Mayor Jim Holland and his wife Stacy.
The gala will be part of a weeklong celebration that includes a June 14 Party Palooza for families to celebrate the museum’s fifth birthday.
Gala committee member Steve Hogan said the board intends to make the fundraiser an annual event to help meet the costs of daily operations.
“We hope people can find it in their busy schedule to attend and to help,” Hogan said. “As a business person, I don’t know anyone ... who doesn’t see (the museum) as an asset, and I know our village leaders want to see it thrive.”
Carrara said she is confident about the museum’s future now that it has been “validated.”
“Usually, about five years is when you see a nonprofit’s longevity pretty much decided,” Carrara said. “They’ve been there five years with open doors and we’re there because people want us there now. We’re obviously wanted and needed at this point.”