uac080812001.gif When Fascinate-U Children’s Museum opened its doors on Green Street in 1999, Susan Daniels, the executive director used to get calls from nervous parents asking where it was safe to park so they could bring their kids to see the exhibits. Fascinate-U had 10,000 visitors that year. Things are different now.

More than 48,000 visitors came to the museum last year. The building also houses the local model train blub and Gilbert Theater, which is known throughout the community for it’s stellar performances.

Progress like this is nothing to sneeze at, but Daniels, along with supporters of the museum and local organizations see no reason to stop now. In fact, there are some pretty exciting things in the works.

At the top of the list is a new exhibit — a farm. “We had a scouting badge workshop in here recently and the kids brainstormed eggs as a dairy product … it is in the dairy section at the store,” said Daniels. “There is such a disconnect these days. Many people how no idea where their food comes from or how it gets from where ever it is grown/made/processed to the dinner table.”

A visitor to the museum also noticed the absence of the food chain in the museum exhibits. Daniels and the Board of the museum took note and started looking for ways to add this information to their exhibits.

Thanks to some very generous local nonprofits, industry, and personal contributions from donors, Fascinate-U is looking to open the new exhibit in the near future. “There is so much potential here, “ said Daniels. The exhibit will include root vegetables in plexi glass under a grow light so kids can actually see what the food looks like when it is in the ground and farm animals like hens, pigs and a cow. “The cow is going to be great. It’s a milking cow with a pump inside so the kids will actually be able see what it is like to milk a cow,” Daniels added.

The exhibit also includes an orchard. “We will be able to Velcro the fruit to the wall and give the kids the opportunity to “pick” the fruit and make the connection that our fruit grows on trees,” said Daniels.

That is just the beginning. Daniels plans to use the exhibit as a platform to talk about nutrition and healthy meal planning and food preparation, to engage local farmers and possibly include them in educational programs, to explore the process of how food gets from the farm to the table and the carbon footprint that process leaves. “There is a lot we can build on here,” she said.

In addition to the new exhibit, the museum is set to get a few upgrades, too. Having 48,000 visitors a year is a wonderful thing, but it can involve some wear and tear, so new paint on the walls and new flooring are in the works. That may take a bit longer, but it’s something that Daniels knows will make a difference for people who come through.

“The flooring may take a little longer because we also hope to redo some of the mini-city exhibit,” said Daniels. 08-08-12-fascinate-u-.gif

Bringing almost 50,000 people a year is not small feat and it doesn’t happen over night, but the strong programming and community outreach has built a strong following that many in the community hope to build on.

The museum works with both the Boy Scouts of America and the Girl Scouts of America on badge workshops and other educational and community service projects.

Super Science Saturday and Make It Take It Saturdays provide hands-on learning experiences and include some creativity for patrons. There are three snakes, a tarantula and several rats that are a part of the programming at various time through out the year. Every 4th Friday there is a kid-friendly project for children to enjoy and admission to the museum is free. The Cape Fear Railroaders invite visitors (as well as the general public) to the museum to an open house on the first and third Saturday of each month, too.

During the summer, science and art camps fill the calendar at Fascinate-U. Kids can choose between art and science or stay all day and enjoy them both — once mom and dad sign them up. If camp is out of the question, Daniels suggests holding a birthday party there or hosting a group event for the kids at Fascinate-U.

During the school year, local schools benefit from the outreach efforts of Daniels. The museum has been in the classrooms in local schools for the past three years. “Last year we were in four local elementary schools 14 times during the year,” said Daniels. “We reached 5,000 kids last year through our science programs, and we’ve shared our “Simply Science” program in Bladen County, too.”

In order to continue to grow the programming, the inaugural Fascinate-U Children’s Open is scheduled for Sept. 14-15. “We were looking for something fun and different to do — something wholesome and family friendly,” said Daniels.

It’s a miniature golf tournament that will include nine holes, made by sponsors, so each hole will be a one-of-a-kind. “We really hope that the sponsors will make their holes distinctive and unique — something that reflects who they are and their place in the community,” said Daniels.

There will be other fun activities during the event, too. Look for bounce houses, face painting, games, food, a silent auction and local mascots from area teams and businesses. “We hope to see hundreds of people come out for this. It is family friendly and something everyone can enjoy,” said Daniels. “Our goal is to raise $10,000 this year.”

Find out more about Fascinate-U and how you can help at or by calling 829-9171.

Photo: An artists rendering of the new Fascinating Farm exhibit that is coming to Fascinate-U.

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