By KAITLYN NAPLES
The Bristol Observer will be publishing monthly features showcasing the different aspects of the Imagine Nation Children’s Museum as it celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.
There are many well-known attractions and landmarks in Bristol, and while many are unique in their own ways, none offer what one very special place does on a daily basis.
The Imagine Nation Children’s Museum is known for its innovative exhibits and educational offerings to provide children with the opportunity to use their imaginations and creativity at a very young age.
This September, the Imagine Nation Children’s Museum will be celebrating its 10-year anniversary, and it has a lot to celebrate as it all started with a vision of something bigger and better for children and families.
Carolyn Thompson, the executive director of the former Bristol Family Center for Boys and Girls, had this vision, said Imagine Nation Museum Director Doreen Stickney, who has been the director ever since the Museum opened on Sept. 18, 2004.
“We had about 600 people here with performers, hands-on activities,” and more, and with the opening of the museum came community supporters and sponsors from Bristol and beyond, like General Electric, Otis Elevator and more. Ever since its inception, the museum has largely been a community effort, and Stickney said there are too many companies, organizations and individuals to be thanked for their efforts in helping the museum grow and succeed over the last 10 years.
Over 10 years ago, the Bristol Family Center was located on Upson Street, and once the museum was built many of its traditional programs and initiatives were shifted there, with most of those programs and initiatives still held to this day.
“The evolution of the museum has responded to different kinds of children and their needs,” said Michael Suchopar, executive director of the Bristol Boys and Girls Club and Family Center, who added that the museum and Bristol Boys and Girls Club is a Boys and Girls Club of America Unit, the only one of its kind in the country.
The property the Imagine Nation Children’s Museum sits on used to be the home of Litchfield Farms, a popular restaurant in Bristol’s downtown, Suchopar said, adding that he remembers it being a popular hang-out with great food.
When the museum opened, the Family Center’s educational programs, like science programs and the Imagine Nation Station, were relocated, and a dance studio was also set up so dance lessons could be held there. The special events came next, like the Easter Bunny Breakfast and Wild About Animals, which are still held today.
“We carried a lot of the old traditional programs over,” Suchopar said, adding that they have worked so well with children over the last 10 years.
In the same year of the museum’s grand opening, its famous 1940s old fashioned soda fountain, which was donated and renovated by Melnick Metal Works, and the bar in the shop was donated by Redman’s Dairy that used to be located on Farmington Avenue. Stickney said Guida’s Dairy taught museum employees and volunteers how to scoop ice cream and clean everything and how to run an old fashioned soda fountain.
The museum also opened up with a few exhibits that are still present today, like the sand table and water room, the art area and even had the piano that sits in the soda fountain and plays by itself.
Stickney said, over the years, the museum has partnered with corporations and businesses like ESPN, The Hartford, and General Electric, to come up with new exhibits. The United Way of West Central Connecticut also helps fund the museum’s educational programs. The Bristol Garden Club maintains the greenscape at the museum as well, and Bristol Hospital has worked with the museum for events, as well as local dentists for a dental health program, and so much more. There are between 150 and 200 volunteers who donate their time on a regular basis and the Older Members (OMs) of the Bristol Boys and Girls Club and the Womens’ Keystone Auxiliary are also very helpful at the museum.
“I am so impressed by the community support and the love people have for the museum and what it has to offer,” Stickney said, adding the museum is continuing to grow and make sure it reaches as many different kinds of audiences as possible to continue to provide activities and programs that enhance early childhood development.
“Children come in to explore what we have and they use their imagination and we sneak the learning in along the way,” Stickney said, adding that the museum is “one of the most stimulating learning centers.”
Looking toward the future, Suchopar said he’d like to see the museum continue to push its initiatives on creativity and also incorporate STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) –related activities and exhibits.
“We are definitely providing quality educational experiences for children (with the goal to help close the learning gaps),” Suchopar said.
Stickney added she wants to expand the museum’s outreach so it can go out more into communities. The museum has an outreach program right now, but Stickney said she’d like to see more of that, as many community members have asked about it.
The museum offers a yearly membership for families, and Stickney said many libraries in the state have memberships to the museum as well so families can take out a pass. The museum offers field trips, summer camps, a wide variety of weekly activities, is open on the weekends, and so much more.
For more information visit its website at www.imaginenation.org. The museum is located at 1 Pleasant St., Bristol and can be reached at (860)314-1400.