How One Science Museum Is Changing Lives, and What's In Store For Those Old Buildings On Sacramento Street.
In 2009, in the midst of a recession, the World of Wonders Science Museum opened their doors for business. And just this March, the WOW celebrated their 9th birthday. I’m a pretty big fan of the WOW. I’m a museum lover and a former employee, so I’ve gotten a first-hand experience with the excitement and, unlike some jobs, that experience only made me love the WOW more. Now as a parent to a very busy toddler, I have a new appreciation for the museum. I love taking my daughter to a place where she can explore with no boundaries… there’s nothing to break, nothing she can’t touch, and everything is exciting. I know she’s too young to understand the concepts, but watching her play freely with all of the exhibits lets me see those little wheels in her head turning unlike anything else. I love it.
If you haven’t already heard the spiel, the WOW was the brainchild of Dan Ingrum (of Danz Jewelers) and has been led by Sally Snyde since she missed a planning committee meeting back in 2007 (that’s why you always show up!). Sally has a super optimistic mindset, a determined attitude, and is so passionate about the museum that she donates all of her time- her position is unpaid. The museum has had a few challenges since opening its doors, but its mission to offer hands-on, science-based exhibits to stimulate discovery for all ages has stayed on point since day one and has carried them to success.
I sat down with Sally to talk about the growth of the museum, her passion for the cause, and why she thinks the museum stands out in the community.
JAMIE: You guys have accomplished a lot in the last 9 years. What do you think has been the museum’s biggest accomplishment since you opened?
SALLY: Changing the lives of some of our employees. And I know it’s changed the life of children quite a bit, but because I’m dealing with employees everyday I think that’s the big thing. Most of our employees were volunteers, and I’ve hired from our volunteers because I can see they have a passion. The other day this little girl, she’s been coming here since she was 10 or 11, and by the way we don’t let people volunteer until they’re 14, so the other day she comes in and goes, “Okay, today’s my birthday! I’m 14 so I get to volunteer!” It was so cute, and she’s so bubbly and that was a goal of her’s. Luis (an employee) is another example. He started coming in when he was 10, and we actually let him start volunteering when he was 12. And he just loved it, and when he was old enough to get a job I hired him, and now he’s a senior in high school. He wants to major in science and he’s applying to all these universities and I see that the museum has changed his life. Those stories are what keep me going. They’re so positive. There’s so much passion here that it inspires people.
J: What has surprised you the most as the museum continues to grow?
S: That we’re still here (laughs). Nobody ever thought we would be this successful, including me. We just knew it was a neat idea, and we never stopped. We just kept making it happen. None of us ever thought to this day that we would be here making such a positive difference for people.
J: What do visitors tell you surprises them the most when they visit the museum for the first time?
S: They didn’t think they would be here this long. They’re surprised time-wise how long they spend here. Parents are always shocked because they’ll force their kids to go to the science museum, and then once they get here the kids don’t want to leave. It will have been two hours and the kids are still engaged in whatever they’re doing. People don’t know what they’re getting into, but that’s one of the best compliments that once they get here they don’t want to leave.
J: Haha my daughter threw a tantrum when I told her it was time to go on our last visit and we were here for over an hour and a half! Over the years, the museum has earned quite a bit of support from members of our community. What makes donors so passionate about the museum’s mission that they’re willing to continue to financially support the work you all do?
S: Because of the difference it makes in the community. That’s what they tell me all the time. They keep thanking us for our work. We even get cards (from our donors) about how happy they are with what we’re doing. The museum is more of a community idea, and we’ve worked hard to keep it that way. That’s why we want to keep it privately owned. Donors never name specifics of why they appreciate us so much, it’s just an overall feeling of it’s just so cool to be here.They’re having fun, being educated, and people want to be here.
J: What is one of the programs your most proud of?
S: WOW on Wheels. It was one of my dreams at the beginning, that I wanted to take our field trips out to the schools. I was going to call it MOM, which is WOW upside down and stood for Mobile Outreach Museum, but then someone pointed out that no one wants their mom at school (laughs), so we changed it to WOW on Wheels. We would get grants from the very beginning (of the museum opening) for Title 1 schools. I would call principles, and tell them they have a free field trip the museum, and schools would turn me down because they couldn’t afford the buses. So taking science into the classroom has been phenomenal. It’s been so popular we’re having to turn away schools, we don’t have enough time to meet the demand.
J:What is another program you would love to see the museum offer?
S: I want to offer middle school programs. I believe those are the kids who really need this museum, and in middle school they don’t come here for field trips since all the classes are split up. So I really want an after school program. We keep applying for grants for Lego robotics and we’re just not getting enough money for that yet, but we want to do Lego robotics for middle school girls. They’re lost during that time, and that’s a tough age. If you catch them at that age you can keep them engaged and inspired. We do really good with kids from preschool to 6th grade, and we have a lot of high school volunteers, but we’re missing the middle schoolers. We don’t really have anything for the middle schoolers, so that’s something we’re working hard to change.
J: What else does the 5 year plan for the museum look like?
S: Well we’re working on the expansion across the street, and that’s really what our five year plan is. We’re right in the process of purchasing five of the parcels across the street and we’re right on track. We just have to raise another $20,000 to sign the contract and then when we sign the contract we have a year to come up with the $1.2 million, and that’s when we’re going to start working with some major foundations.
J: Is your goal to have it open in five years or started in the construction phase in five years?
S: Oh gosh no, it’ll be done if five years if it’s still up to me (laughs)! I’ve already been working on it for four years. What are we waiting for? I hate to wait. We women we want to get stuff done! Once we have our names on those buildings then we have a lot of support. The city is also really behind us so that helps.
Round up Questions
J: What inspires you to keep giving back?
S: The optimist in me. I keep seeing something good. I always get doors shut, sometimes slammed, in my face, but the thing about this museum is when a door closes a huge window opens. It’s like it’s meant to be. If something icky happens it’s followed by something fantastic. This place is just meant to be.
J: What problem does the museum solve?
S: Without knowing it, it (the museum) cleaned up a lot of Sacramento Street. We didn’t know it, we didn’t do it because of Sacramento Street, but Sacramento Street was the slums for so long and people thought we were crazy to build a museum here, but once we did a lot of the homeless went away, the ladies of the night left this area and we did something without knowing how we would clean up the city. That’s a lot of the reason I can’t wait to get across the street. People are now parking in the parking garage, parking on Sacramento Street, and they never used to do that.
J: What do you want other people to know about the museum?
S: We change kids lives. This is a very positive environment, especially when kids are here. We’re personal and everyone here is passionate. It’s not like big museums, we’re here to talk to you. Everyone who works here has a passion for the museum, we have a great staff and it’s because they’re passionate.
J: If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?
S: If I could change one thing in the world? Hmm… If I could change one thing I would rebuild the Napa state hospital. I would rebuild the state hospitals because a lot of the homeless people should be in a hospital and that will take them off the streets. The longer they’re on the streets, the worse things get for us and for them. Since they closed those state hospitals we’ve had nothing but problems. They need a place to go, they need to be taken care of. Give them an opportunity to get the help they need. If I wasn’t doing this (the WOW) I would be doing that, trying to get those hospitals back, because that would take care of so many people’s problems.
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Thanks to Sally for letting me pick her brain. If you would like to check out Lodi's World of Wonders Science Museum, or learn more about their programs, about the expansion, or how you can support their mission, click here to visit the WOW's website.