By Cindy Mindell ~
WEST HARTFORD – Some people get a gold watch or a an office-wide bash to mark their retirement. Susan Stoppelman did something different. When the director of development at The Children’s Museum in West Hartford announced her retirement last month, she also unveiled a new fund for science and nature education.
The first of its kind at the institution, Susan’s Fund for Museum Education will help underwrite the educational programming that Children’s Museum educators provide to kids and their families, Stoppelman says, both at the museum itself, and at schools, youth groups, and scouting groups throughout the state. The education department programming is funded by several sources, including the institution’s own budget, and registration fees from schools and youth groups. With the help of corporate and foundation grants, the museum brings its programs to state-identified Priority Schools, which have a high proportion of students enrolled in school-nutrition programs, and which lack the resources to provide enrichment activities to their classes.
“The mission of The Children’s Museum is to stimulate the curiosity of young minds, and Susan’s fund directly supports that effort by helping us defray the cost of our educational programs,” says Robert Griesmer, president and CEO of the museum.
Stoppelman She worked as director of marketing and communications at Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford from 1988 to 1995.
“Federation was doing a terrific job getting word out about its programs and services and, like many nonprofits at the time, wanted to be more responsive to its constituents,” she says. “They hired me to add the marketing discipline to its communications programs. While I was doing that, I learned a thing or two about fundraising from the pros.”
Following her seven years at Federation, she spent more than a decade as director of development and marketing for Greater Hartford Legal Aid. She worked with Asnuntuck Community College, Middlesex United Way, and Latino Community Services before joining the museum staff last March.
“I had no choice; it was in my genes,” she says of her professional choices. “Like so many others, I was raised to always find a way to give back.”,
“As I approached the end of my professional career, I came to see the extraordinary impact of informal museum education on young minds,” she says. “One day during my very first week at the museum, I saw a child run across the room excitedly calling, ‘Mommy, Mommy! Come look what I discovered!’ Someone once said to me, referring to my job, ‘Kids and animals. What can be bad?’ It’s true. Watching the young ones explore the museum, listening to two fathers debate why a certain demonstration works the way it does, seeing the flash of wonder in a child’s face – what can be better?”
Griesmer says that Susan’s Fund is a welcome gift at a particularly ambitious time for the museum. “We are doing many things simultaneously, introducing many new initiatives essential to revitalizing the institution and repositioning it in the marketplace as the community asset it has always been,” he says. “Susan’s Fund for Museum Education provides a vehicle to maintain the central core of our work, even as we take on these new initiatives. This fund helps support our operating commitment to our educational mission.”
It is the museum’s educators who bear out that mission, Stoppelman says, stimulating curiosity and exploration among its visitors. “When a child is encouraged to explore and experiment, to take risks and discover things for himself or herself, it’s a very powerful and important growth moment that can change a life permanently,” she says. “These experiences create life-long learners, something I value for individuals and for society,” she says. “With today’s need for STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math] workers, The Children’s Museum proves an all-the-more-valuable feeder institution in the educational system.”