On a weekend morning in early October, the Westchester Children’s Museum (WCM) hosted a special breakfast thanking its founding families for their support in ensuring that, after 15 years of coordinated efforts (including a brief pop-up debut in 2015), the museum finally opened its doors as a year-round venue in April. (Hours are Wednesday-Sunday, from 10 am-4 pm.) Kids and parents ran around barefoot together, and nothing was off limits as they collaborated to erect a mock roller coaster, shoot self-fashioned objects up through an air tunnel, and bang away on musical instruments. It’s virtually a dream come true, but there’s still a long road ahead before the founders’ vision is completely realized.
That’s why the WCM will be hosting its eighth annual, day-long Explore-A-Thon this Saturday, October 22, at the regular admission price of $7 per person (click here for information on discounts). Only this is the first time their signature educational and cultural event for children, families, and caregivers—which this year includes everything from a plank-building challenge to pumpkin painting—will take place within the walls of the museum itself. Proceeds will help fund maintenance and programming costs as the facility pursues private donations to bolster its second phase of construction, which will include a one-of-a-kind climbing structure for kids, along with a tactile water exhibit.
“Our exhibits are entirely interactive,” says Corrine Zola, President of the Campaign for the Westchester Children’s Museum, who first got involved more than a decade ago after moving to Westchester with her family and realizing there was “no indoor recreational or educational space that you could go and have these kind of valuable experiences with your children.”
But at WCM, she assures, “You can always find things you’ll be manipulating or building or climbing or working, so that you might not even know that you’re learning something while you’re playing with it.”
The museum itself is situated along the Rye boardwalk, adjacent to Playland, nestled inside the renovated art-deco style bathhouses that were once part of the city’s beachfront but eventually became obsolete and fell out of use. When Zola and the other founders began looking for a space, then-County Executive Andy Spano pointed them towards the lifeless buildings.
Despite having found the perfect location, making further strides required a huge lift. “These buildings were just cinderblock walls,” Zola recalls. “There was nothing in them, no plumbing. We’ve had to pay for anything that would make these code compliant.” And over the years, she and her team did just that, raising $6 million through donations and events like Explore-A-Thon.
Now that the museum is that much closer to its goal, Zola wants to encourage county residents to push the completion of what she calls “a family museum” across the finish line, whether or not they have children.
“I would love to have people involved from a professional perspective, who could bring their expertise in, whatever it is,” Zola says. “We have a building committee, we have a media relations and social media committee. We need people that want to help us do those things, because we have a small staff.”
Although befitting the WCM’s long and winding journey, Zola remarks, “The most important thing is to let people know that we’re open.”