I remember back to my days in school and there are very few fond memories of science class. It was a subject that never really sparked my interest. It was difficult and, at times, boring. I am sure there are many others who share my feelings. I am also confident that an organization in our community has a totally opposite opinion on the matter. Science Central is a non-profit organization with a mission to bring science to life through hands-on science education. The organization is housed in the old City and Light Power Plant located in downtown Fort Wayne. The 50,000 square foot facility features permanent exhibit space, classrooms, a traveling exhibit room, and a demonstration theater. 1.5 million visitors have visited Science Central since it opened its doors in 1995. We, as a family, have visited a few times since we moved to Fort Wayne. Each time the entire family has a great experience. Our volunteer experience was no different.
We volunteered on one of Science Central’s busiest days of the year. Doctor’s Day is an annual event in which visitors can visit stations featuring doctors and healthcare organizations. Children get the opportunity to learn about nutrition, fitness, first aid, and overall wellness. They were able to explore an ambulance and climb inside one of the local hospital helicopters. All normal exhibits are open in addition to the special attractions. Science Central offers free admission for this event which helps to draw a large crowd. On this particular day more than 2000 people came through the doors for the event.
After a very brief training and overview of our responsibilities for the day, we manned our stations as the doors opened. Erica and I worked different exhibits during changing shifts throughout the day. This gave us a chance to see more of the facility and interact more with visitors. I started my volunteer experience on the High Rail Bike. The High Rail Bike is a bicycle that is attached to rail 30 feet above the ground. It teaches individuals about the concept of counterweights and to the eye it is very intimidating. One by one, people hopped on the bike and rode it around the circle track swaying back and forth. It is impossible for the bike to fall, but the anxiety still exists. I welcomed patrons to the exhibit and strapped them onto the bike. I offered words of encouragement for those who were scared. Some of the children admitted to being afraid of heights. It was very rewarding to see their smiles as they came around the last curve. They had conquered a fear while having some fun and learning.
My next station was the Ocean Tidal Pool. It is a small exhibit that features creatures from the Atlantic Ocean. I was totally out of my element when I began at this exhibit. I knew nothing about these sea creatures. I observed another volunteer and staff member interact with the children and listened as they talked about each creature. I learned a lot about sea urchins, sea anemones, snails, starfish, and hermit crabs. As children approached the pool, I would grab a creature and present it to them for touch. Smiling faces of children and adults glared back at me while I spoke. They made me feel like an expert when, in fact, I was not.
After finishing in the Tidal Pool, I went outside to help with parking. With the huge crowd on hand, the parking situation becomes a challenge. I worked with another volunteer to inform visitors when the lot was full and help them find a spot when one was available. I would find the open space and hold it until the next car entered the lot. I would then flag it down and help them enter the spot. Once again, the appreciation from parents was very obvious. They were very thankful that they didn’t have to make the long walk from the overflow parking area. Especially on this cold, windy Saturday. The “thank you’s” and smiles on their faces made standing outside in the cold worth it. Small gestures make an impact. We see it everyday.
I finished my volunteer experience with a lower level floor check. I walked around the lower level exhibits to offer assistance if needed. I picked up trash, reset exhibits, and observed others having fun. Erica finished her day in the Confusion Illusion room. It is a room that presents an optical illusion. You can actually witness a ball roll uphill. This exhibit is usually chaos as the children jump around and make a bunch of noise. Erica was policing how many kids were in the room at one time. I am glad she had that responsibility. The Confusion Illusion room has always given me a headache when we have visited the facility on our own time.
Science Central is providing a great experience for children and adults in our region. The hands-on activities and exhibits are engaging and fun. It is obvious that everyone has a great time when visiting. Most probably learn something while they are there whether they know it or not. I know that I did. The volunteer experience was simple. Erica and I both wish we could have had more training so that we could have ensured that each person enjoyed the full experience at our exhibits. Regardless, we enjoyed our time helping the staff at Science Central.
Visit www.sciencecentral.org to learn more about this organization and how you can get involved. Make the time to visit them with your family. You might just learn something about Science. I know for a fact that you will smile!