As far back as high school, Emily Crim remembers being passionate about being involved and helping others, which led to her going to school for social work and then working for the Georgia Department of Family and Children’s Services. However, the Athens, Georgia-based mother of two said she felt a need to get back into serving her community beyond just through her job and return to more volunteer work. So when her friend said she was starting her own nonprofit children’s museum in order to fill a void in their town for educational children’s play, Emily knew she wanted to get involved.
For the past three years, Emily has served as a board member and volunteer coordinator for Little Athens Children’s Museum, a mobile interactive play museum for children aged about 18 months to eight years old. Through pop ups at the local mall, farmers market and local events and festivals, Little Athens provides a safe place for kids to learn and develop skills by playing make believe, dressing up, playing instruments and more.
Describe your volunteer role with the Little Athens Children’s Museum.
I am one of the board members and I’m also the volunteer coordinator. I’m in charge of when we need volunteers, I send out the emails and say here’s what we need, here are the spots we have coming up, that sort of thing. I get that info from another board member, she’s the events coordinator, so whenever we have an upcoming event she figures out the parameters for that and sends it on to me and I try to get folks signed up to fill the spots and help out.
an you describe what Little Athens Children’s Museum offers to kids?
It’s been around for about three years and we are looking for a permanent location, but right now until we’ve gotten to a point where we’ve fundraised enough and figured out a site that works for us, we’re mobile. We have different pop up events. Typically we have a pop up once a month at [Georgia Square Mall]. They host us for free there at one of their old retail spots. We also a pop up once a month at one of our local Athens farmers markets. We also do different special events. There is a big musical festival each year that Athens has, and different kind of big events like that, we also go to.
A girl I went to undergraduate with, she founded the whole thing and her name is Leigh Ellen Magness. She’s a play therapist so she wanted to create something that was a children’s museum and was really very play-based, because that’s how kids learn best. All of our different exhibits that we have at our mobile pop ups are all basically to initiate that, so a lot of imaginative play and dress up and things like that. We have a small scale kids’ grocery store and we have a little coffee shop and a veterinarian department. We have a little construction area. We’ve been really lucky, we’ve had different partners in town that have donated things. Athens is where [University of Georgia] is so UGA donated some stuff for the little vet clinic we have, and then one of the coffee shops in town, Jittery Joes, donated things for the coffee shop. All these different kind of little units or little exhibits we have, kids can basically come and play and learn through that.
When did you get involved with Little Athens and why was it something that interested you?
I actually got involved right when we were first starting up. Like I said, the founder, Leigh Ellen, she and I went to undergraduate school together for social work. We’ve been friends and we both live in Athens and so every now and then our paths would cross. I heard about it when things were kind of starting up and she had reached out to me, so I started going to informational meetings. Then when the board was created, I was interested in being on that, so everything evolved from there. It was after my first child was born. She wasn’t really at an age yet where I recognized, hey, our community doesn’t have this and we really need it, but I’ve just always really liked the idea of a children’s museum. Then also for both undergrad and grad school, I went to school for social work, so I’ve just always really enjoyed being a part of things as far as helping out and volunteering. I work for [Georgia Department of Family and Children’s Services] and I kind of got to a point where I wasn’t volunteering as much, so it also really peaked my interest just as far as, personally I need to get back into doing something and I need to get back into this habit where I’m a part of something that I’m not required to be be-cause of my job. I’m not just fulfilling some other requirement other than just my own personal desire to feel like I’m being useful and feel like I’m putting something back out there and somehow being helpful. It really kind of just fell into my lap, as far as this is something I have time enough to do now, and this is something I think would be a great thing to add to the community, and also I could hopefully be helpful with.
Why was something like a children’s museum so important for your community to have?
It really is the best way for kids to learn, just through that kind of interaction of play. Kids have a hard time sitting still and those more traditional, more formal learning environments — for young kids, that’s just not really what they need. They need to explore through play and testing things out and figuring stuff out on their own, interacting with peers their own age and that sort of stuff while they’re doing that kind of thing. The necessity of that type of educational experience is really key for that age group. As far as this community goes, there aren’t as many options as far as indoor play go that aren’t things like, and I’m not bashing them in anyway, but we’ve got a trampoline park and inflatables kids can jump around on and things like that. But for little, little kids, there aren’t a whole lot of options for them in our community for playing and learning. So it’s just kind of crazy because with the university here and so many different other agencies and businesses and stuff in Athens, surprisingly that need is still not completely met. There’s still a niche there that is missing. It’s definitely something that fulfills that gap that’s in place for kids around those ages, where that imaginative play and role playing and exploring and things like that are so necessary.
Are there any future partnerships, programs, or events that you are excited about?
Currently there is the raffle we’ve been working on as far as the fundraiser that just kicked off two or three days ago. Athens Ford, and they had donated with us previously which was a huge help, they are sponsoring this raffle where they have three Power Wheel cars, those little electronic cars that the kids can drive around on. The three Power Wheels they are auc-tioning off for $5 a ticket [with 1,000 tickets total for the three separate vehicles], they could raise up to possibly $15,000 for us, which is a huge donation for us. That’s been really exciting. That’s going on through the middle of December.
As far as our events, we still have the mall pop up and the farmers market pop up over the next few months. As far as then toward the end of the year, things slow down a little bit with the holidays and everything, but those two, the mall and the farmer’s market, are our consistent events. The farmers market actually, they were getting such a good turnout as far as kids and families went at the market, that this next year going in — because they’re currently open March to December each year — they just let our events coordinator know within the last few weeks that because they got such a huge turnout from us, they are going to sponsor us so we get to be a more permanent thing at their farmers market. We’ll be on their official sign and be the official folks that fill the children’s space within the farmers market each month. That was re-ally exciting too, to kind of get that kind of prop from them. The farmers market is kind of a big deal here, very much how Athens kind of is. It’s a really local pride of point and a lot of families spend time there, with the whole sustainability and green mentality of Athens.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?
Really just getting to meet so many families and kids, honestly. It’s been really great when you stumble especially upon families who didn’t know we existed yet, when they kind of stumble upon us and they’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is so great.’ It’s so hot on some Saturdays or it’s so rainy out or whatever, and with the fact that we don’t have as many activities and don’t have as many businesses and different locales within Athens that support that age and play, that if outside is not appropriate on a day, then folks don’t have anywhere to go with their kids. It’s been great meeting these families and seeing them light up as far as having a place they can take their kid that’s safe and fun and their child is enjoying it. It gives them a little bit of a break too, because they can sit there and their kid can go crazy a little bit playing. They can actually have a seat and rest a little bit and still have something that is educational and safe for their kids and they’re not having to to get up at 7 a.m. and take their kid to the park before it’s 100 degrees heat index or something crazy like that. It’s been nice seeing families, just the positive response that they’ve had and seeing that need for them being fulfilled with there finally being another activity that fits for their kids and is also a positive one. It’s not plunking your kids down in front of video games for hours on end, or a tablet. It’s learning and having fun and getting to experience different things.
What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?
I feel like when I got into school for social work, I was so gung-ho, and ‘hey, I’m going to do all this stuff,’ and you get a little bit burn out. When I got back into working with people again and choosing to volunteer and spend time at Little Athens, it kind of retaught me and refreshed me on this is something that really fills you up. If you’re participating in other hobbies or activities, that’s great, but you can be tired or whatever else form it. But I don’t ever regret if I’m volunteering for something with Little Athens. If I’m tired, if it’s one of those days where you’re like ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve got so much on my plate and I don’t need another thing but you’re signed up to do it,’ I still never regret it because you’re getting something back out of it which is nice. It’s been nice over these past years being committed to a consistent something again, that you feel like you’re putting something in the community and you’re helping folks out. At the same time it kind of feeds you in reverse because you feel accomplished in what you’re doing and you feel accomplished in the time that you’ve spent. … It’s satiating. It’s been great being reminded of that because I think for me personally, going to school for social work and wanting to work with people, that was something that was always important to me. Even before college, when I was in high school I was always involved in a lot of different organizations and I liked helping out. Once you get out of the habit of that and you get too busy, you let that stuff fall by the wayside, you forget about that kind of great duality of purpose. You’re helping out other people but you are also helping yourself too. It’s this great flip side to the coin. I think that’s something I continue to learn and be reminded of anytime I’m really participating in something like this.
Why do you think it’s important for others to give back?
I think it teaches you a lot. There’s so many great principles. It teaches you about other people, it reminds you of diversity and inclusion. Sometimes I think our society gets on the side of ‘everyone’s a stranger, you don’t talk to strangers’ and things like that and you don’t necessarily reach out to people you don’t know. When you’re volunteering, whether it be something like Little Athens or really any other organization or any other volunteer role, you’re put in a situation typically where you’re having to put yourself out there to some degree. Of course some volunteer roles are less interactive with people, but I think specifically ones that do inter-act with people, you are constantly faced with seeing what do I have in common with this per-son, what do I have that’s different from this person, and really seeing the value in different people which is great.
One of the things I love specifically about volunteering with Little Athens is that be-cause we are focused on providing these services to kids and families, we’re always allowed to bring our kids to volunteer with us. A lot of times, especially with my four-year-old because she’s at the age where she can play and I’m not having to chase her down as much and that sort of thing, I’ll take her with me. It’s great because she’s already learning this is what we do, which makes me feel good. If I put on my Little Athens T-shirt, she’ll say ‘Oh, Mom are we going to go volunteer today?’ Of course, she’s going to play so she’s not really volunteering, but we talk about it and she, as much as a four-year-old could, understands the concept of volunteering. It triggers these conversations of why do we do this and why do we help people and why do some people need help? It’s great because I think there’s so much exposure you person-ally can get that can better yourself when you’re volunteering with anything. Also when you have people watching you like your children, they’re learning every single thing you do, so if you’re spending your time to help someone out, if you’re spending your time to volunteer — and a lot of times we’re doing things like even cleaning up toys afterwards and stuff like that, but it’s still a lesson for her to learn. Sometimes we’re talking to people about what Little Athens does, and still she’s hearing that over and over and over again so hopefully it’s creating these impactful lessons as far as, as an adult, this is something you need to do. Anyone from A to Z can help in someway to someone else at any point. Hopefully it’s something that as she gets older and as they both get older, they carry with them. Not saying they have to go into a helping field or anything like that, it’s that they realize you do what you can to help people when you can.
To me, there are people that work in different sectors or have access to different means as far as helping folks out, and not everyone has time to volunteer on the weekends or nights or whatever and that’s fine too, but if you’re not feeling like to some degree you’re doing some-thing at any consistent level to help people, then I really think you’re just not getting as much out of things as you could. You’re not utilizing all the resources you have available to help folks. It could be the tiniest little thing or the biggest thing, but there is something so personally beneficial in knowing that you’re doing something to help at least one other person.
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