On May 15, 2024
Local News

Wonderfeet Kids’ Museum celebrates expansion

By Polly Mikula

By Polly Mikula

Saturday, May 11, Wonderfeet Kids’ Museum held a grand opening celebration from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on Merchants Row downtown. While the museum relocated to its current location (66 Merchants Row) last spring, this was the first time the organization has celebrated that expansion. The move allowed Wonderfeet Kids’ Museum to tripled in size with new exhibits to serve more families across Rutland County and beyond.

Saturday’s block party filled Merchants Row with vendors, bounce houses, face painting,  bubbles, street performers, a magician, the unveiling of two new exhibits and a seven-tier birthday cake from Dream Maker Bakers.

New exhibits included a 7-foot-tall Green Mountain Power Robot and a forest escape, complete with a woodland bear cave, elevated treehouse and slide. These join a mountain-themed playscape sponsored by Killington Resort that was added in January, along with many other long-time favorites.

The event coincided with the Farmers Market’s first outside in Depot Park off Merchant’s Row, expanding the outdoor offerings downtown Saturday. 

At noon key supporters of Wonderfeet made brief remarks before cutting a ribbon — and the cake. 

Wonderfeet Board member Paul Gallo was the first speaker and gave a brief history of how Wonderfeet came to be.

“In April of 2010, the Rutland creative economy held an open forum to see what Rutland wanted for a new community project. With nearly 500 people in attendance, the No. 1 vote that night was the Children’s Museum. A volunteer group was formed,” Gallo said. “Myra Peffer was the visionary having the experience and a long history of working in science museums… In 2013 it became a non profit. In 2014, Myra took a leap of faith and left her full time position in state education and stepped in as Wonderfeet’s first employee. She was soon joined by a volunteer fundraising team that raised over $200,000 to land the full-time museum at 11 Center Street with all the new exhibits. 

“Our current Executive Director Danielle Monroe came on board in 2019. Danielle understood the value of the visitor experience as a priority. Danielle has expanded programming and it created strong alliances with social service agencies of the region,” Gallo continued.

In 2022, the Wonderfeet board negotiated a lease agreement for the new space on Merchants Row (formerly the Green Mountain Innovation Center).

“The wonderful team rallied to raise nearly a million dollars to make this happen,” Gallo said.

Wonderfeet Board President Susanne Engels next introduced U.S. Sen. Peter Welch, saying: “There’s nothing like getting visited by a U.S. Senator to remind you about how important your work is. Senator Welch has popped into Wonderfeet and supported us from afar and up-close for many years and I’m honored that he’s here. It just validates the good work that we’re doing and the importance of this Vermont community.” 

Wonderfeet is a testament to the “strength of Rutland” U.S. Sen. Welch said, adding, “this children’s museum is where our kids are going to thrive, they’re going to be together, they’re going to start exploring and learning and getting a sense of how to be creative, and how to interact with one another and how to be the future leaders of Rutland, the future leaders of Vermont, so it is terrific!”

Rutland City Mayor Mike Doenges spoke next.

Wonderfeet is “a resource for families. We didn’t have places for parents to sit down so their kids could go play. They set up the museum so that the parents would be able to spend time with their kids, interact with the children and always be connected… that’s what we’re about here. We’re about building relationships and building our city,” Doenges said.

Since Wonderfeet moved into the current larger location, its had 30,000 visits. In the past decade, it’s tallied over 150,000 visits, Doenges said. “So to say that wonderful is a success is an understatement,” he concluded.

Casella Chairman and CEO John Casella, one of Wonderfeet’s earliest supporters, added “There’s so many people in this community that have been involved with this. It’s just absolutely amazing. And it’s a clear indication of the fabric of our community. What an investment in the rebirth of downtown. But most importantly, what an investment in the next generation and the kids of the future. What an investment to get them off of screens to get them playing together to get them out to get looking at different aspects of innovation was a wonderful way for us in this community to really embrace the next generation.” 

For more information, visit: Wonderfeetkidsmuseum.org.

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