Name: Carolyn Carr-Spencer
Name of Non-Profit:
Board of Trustees President at Westchester Children’s Museum (“WCM” or “the Museum”)
Length of time you've worked there: Served as a volunteer and Board Member for almost 16 years
Number of kids and ages: Four kids, 19, 17, 16, 12
Pets: One Fish
Before working there, what was your career?
Flight Attendant and Human Resource Field Manager for Delta Airlines. Obtained a Masters Degree in Human Resources while working at Delta and as I started my family.
What do you do now?
As a Board Member I support and advocate for the Museum’s Mission. As President I lead the Board of the Westchester Children’s Museum in Governance, Strategic Planning and Development working alongside my fellow board members, our AMAZING Director, Leta Wong, and her FABULOUS STAFF.
What do you love most about your work at the museum?
I am thankful that I have been able to grow personally by connecting with so many new and interesting people, while also utilizing the leadership skills I gained at Delta and in my Masters Program. The Playland Bathhouses, despite being designated as historic landmarks, were unused for over 50 years, so I am especially proud and delighted to give personal tours that show off all we have accomplished in their transformation. Bringing my kids and their friends to the museum and watching them get lost in the activities continuously reminds me why this work is important. Since joining this grassroots group, my energy and focus has been creating something meaningful and successful that makes our community a better place. We started with a raw space of just over 20,000 square feet. Despite the COVID interruption we have added all the infrastructure to make the entire space usable plus ever expanding exhibits and programs.
The Museum is an inclusive Town Square for families, and we seek to offer multiple points of entry for children of different ages, backgrounds, learning styles, and physical abilities. I’m proud that we allow children who might be without access to enrichment opportunities, and who might need it most, to be a valued part of our Museum community. We offer multiple admission opportunities including no charge for Blue Star families and active duty military families; free for children under 1; discounted admission for EBT card holders; as well as special admission grants and programs for community groups and local schools in underserved communities. With so much potential and even more opportunity for growth, it is easy to stay involved and share my passion with others.
How did you get started working there? I received a flyer in my oldest daughter’s mailbox at preschool for the Explore-a-thon, a fundraiser held on the Playland boardwalk and in Rye Town Park to raise awareness and support for the initiative to build the museum in its desired location, the unused Playland Bathhouses. There I was able to first connect with volunteers, board members and the Development Director while helping to raise funds. The event was so much fun, and the energy led me to get more involved. I was and am still excited about making my community a better place for all children to explore, imagine and play while learning and enriching their daily lives.
What's been the biggest challenge you’ve faced at the WCM? How did you overcome that challenge?
The biggest challenge during my involvement with the WCM was obtaining the appropriate state and local approvals to get access to the Historic Landmark North Bathhouse. It was a lengthy process and the easy way out would have been to find a different location, however we were confident that this location was the perfect place for a Children’s Museum. Its location has public transportation access and plenty of parking to allow ALL local residents and visitors easy access. We are a positive addition to the Playland Campus that allows for more year round use of the property. Patience and planning allowed us to work through all the steps needed to open our museum on the Playland Boardwalk.
What's been something that has surprised you?
How lucky I have been to be involved with a dedicated Board and amazing staff over the years. So many local families have been incredibly generous with their time, effort, and donations, which allowed us to initially get the doors open and to keep our doors open during the pandemic. Our immediate success was amazing! We opened to the public during the summertime of 2014 and 2015 and year round in 2016. We’ve welcomed more than 250,000 visitors since opening, including hundreds of school groups from all over Westchester, and we have attracted nearly 1,200 members. Our annual growth has demonstrated the hunger in our community for more, enabling us to raise funds privately to match a grant of nearly $1 million from New York State for restoration of 16,000 square feet of additional space in the Bathhouse, which can accommodate socially distanced programming and an expansive MakerSpace. The additional space will also enable us to expand the MakerSpace activities to attract and inspire older children to visit and enjoy the museum’s exhibits.
What is your best tip for other moms who are looking to get involved or start something new?
Get involved with wonderful, dedicated and energetic people that allow for collaboration and team building; by doing so you will feel empowered to run with ideas that are supported by the group.
How has the virus impacted your work?
It has been challenging. Sadly, the COVID Pandemic closed the Museum to the general public for almost 15 months. Financially we took a big hit by not going into hibernation but it was important to us to be a resource to families during this very difficult situation and to support our amazing employees. We did not bring in any admission, membership or field trip revenue. We drew on our cash reserves and donations from loyal supporters to keep our members and followers engaged by quickly pivoting to a Museum at Home Program, with weekly activities and at home video production posted to Instagram, Facebook, and our newly created YouTube Channel. We were able to keep our core team in place to run these programs and ensure a smooth transition once we were able to get back to work.
Once allowed back in our building we developed several very successful, socially distanced education programs, weekend workshops, and a summer drop off program. We reopened at the end of June with a strict sanitizing protocol to keep the museum experience safe for visitors and staff, and we are now open Every Thursday, Friday & Saturday from 10am - 12:30pm and 1:30 - 4:00pm. We offer special events, birthday parties and outreach programs, and we can host private field trips and group visits on the days the Museum is closed. My heartfelt thanks goes out to all the families that supported us over the last 15 months.
What’s new at the Museum and what's all that construction on the Playland boardwalk? Its very exciting at the Museum! We reopened our doors with an expanded, newly renovated space that had actually been completed just prior to the 15 month pandemic-related closure. The restoration project brings our square footage from 6,000 to 20,000 sq ft. for more exhibits and special programming areas. We still have the favorites like Build Your Own Roller Coaster, Engineering and Design with KEVA Planks, the Book Nook, and the Wind Tunnel Design Challenge, but now we have an expanded MakerSpace with ever-changing STEAM activities for multiple age groups and learning styles; the ping pong gallery to work on hand eye coordination (and friendly competition), and many interactive, themed programs led by our amazing educators. Plus many more exhibits and program partners to announce in the coming months, so stay tuned! We are especially proud that the Museum was selected by NASA to be a celebration partner for the launch of the newest, most powerful space telescope ever built. We have a day of free activities and challenges planned around this on November 13. As for the construction currently going on adjacent to the Museum, the County of Westchester is building a new public pool and renovating and enhancing the pool deck and surrounding entrances at the Playland Bathhouses. When completed, the pool area will definitely enhance the beauty and functionality of the site and the overall positive experience of visiting the Museum, the Boardwalk, the beach and the surrounding Playland campus. I also want to note that while we share the Playland parking lot, the Westchester Children’s Museum itself is independent of Playland, and operates its own facility through its own fundraising, board, and staff.
What are some alternative careers you would have liked to have?
Singer. I started singing at a very young age and was lucky to have a great Middle School Chorus teacher who instilled a love of music that still lives with me today.
Any other fun details about you?
My family, along with several other families, founded a non profit youth cross country and track program in Westchester County - Tailwind Track Club - led by founder Coach Carl Curran. My son began running at age ten which led us to Coach Carl. His sisters followed his footsteps into running as did my husband and I. You can often see some or all of us running Saturday and Sunday mornings in the Rockefeller State Park Preserve or racing/spectating at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. When the world shut down, running allowed my family an important outlet we could do together or alone as needed.
Do you have advice regarding reinventing yourself? What do you think is important for other moms to know?
Philanthropy and serving those most in need is so important to the continued growth, well-being and improvement of our community, and my long term involvement with the Westchester Children’s Museum has helped instill this value in my children. All my children enjoy the Museum and understand why it is important. My oldest daughter wrote a paper in 5th grade about my work at the WCM, and over the years they have all volunteered in some way. I encourage all to find a way to support your community and involve your family as much as possible.
Your website? www.DiscoverWCM.org
Your Instagram? @discoverWCM