Once upon a time there was a historic Fish Market in the heart of Baltimore City, Maryland. The walls of the historic building heard many a voice and saw many a use over the years but one day it fell silent.
In 1994, the historic Fish Market building was rediscovered! What was once a meeting place for adults… now would become a hub for families - a children’s museum.
Experts in childhood and family programming, plus community stakeholders, came together to take Baltimore in a new and different direction for children’s museums. These determined minds soon realized something key was missing - the children and parents for whom the place would be built needed to be a part of this important process.
Thus, the fun began! Port Discovery asked the Maryland State Department of Education’s Teacher of the Year designees to recommend elementary school students they considered to be natural leaders amongst their peers. These children and their families, living in every corner of the state, were invited to participate in a very unique and specialized program called the Youth Advisory Council.
The Youth Advisory Council (YAC) became the core group of youth leadership for the children’s museum! For three and a half years the YAC, accompanied by their families, would meet once a month in empty rooms donated by a local office building to engage in leadership skill workshops, educational program testing, to provide feedback on exhibit designs and more. In fact, this first group even conducted a research project to examine the needs and wants of children- just like them – all across the state of Maryland. The results of this research were given to Disney’s Imagineers (Port Discovery’s original exhibit designers)!
“One of my most fond memories”, says Nora Thompson (Curator of Innovation), “was standing in the empty, unheated shell of the Fish Market atrium, with scaffolding rising up to the ceiling, and watching the children and their families paint the ‘If You Can Dream It You Can Do It’ murals that were placed over the boarded windows around the top of the Fish Market Building during the original renovation.”
In 1998, Port Discovery Children’s Museum opened its doors and became one of the most celebrated children’s museums in our country!
The story does not end there! Fast forward 20 years…
Many children and their families have grown up with the Port Discovery Children’s Museum magic, but as they grew, Port Discovery grew older as well. In 2017, the decision was made to reimagine the exhibitions, programs and activities for the next generation.
Port Discovery reached into its history and reinstated the Youth Advisory Council, under a revamped name called the Next Generation Youth Advisory Council. Nora Thompson, the lead Port Discovery staff person on this initiative 25 years ago, was asked to create a mirror image of the successful flagship initiative. Nora and Port Discovery staff members would not be alone in this endeavor as original YAC members, now adults, stepped forward as volunteers turned role models.
Through a generous grant from the Baltimore Children & Youth Fund, participants were recruited from Baltimore City, Maryland. The grant included funding for youth leadership workshops, materials and food. The children were recruited through a long-standing partnership with the YMCA of Central Maryland. Together, Port Discovery and YMCA planned recruitment efforts, a schedule of meeting dates and a full outline of activities.
In January of 2019, the program welcomed 20 families with great anticipation of the possibilities for the future!
The Next Generation Youth Advisory Council (NGYAC) has been meeting on the 3rd Saturday of every month from 9:30 am until 1:30 pm. Children have been participating in program testing, reacting to exhibit designs, conducting a youth driven research project, learning how to run successful meetings using Roberts Rules of Order, gaining leadership skills and much more! While there were no boarded-up windows to cover with beautiful murals… the Next Generation Youth Advisory Council youth are conducting a Kindness Initiative as their community service project. Children will create “Kindness is Magic” graffiti art paintings to take back to their communities to spread the word!
At the first meeting of the Next Generation Youth Advisory Council, one of the new members questioned whether adults would listen to children.
“Well,” said Juvon Price, one of the original YAC and now an adult volunteer and mentor, “they listened to me!”
Prior to the opening day of the NEW reimagined Port Discovery- the Next Generation Youth Advisory Council families stood inside the museum peering in. They saw the fruits of their labor and, one child said, “We are VIP’s…We helped to do that!”
Twenty-five years later, these families joined the ranks of those who had gone before them in sharing a once in a life time experience… making magic for a new generation of children and families!