Little Wonders sponsorships

For $100 a year, you can become a Little Wonders sponsor, helping to provide an annual family membership to the High Desert Museum.

“That’s a really nice way to support the program and give the gift of a museum to a family,” said Dana Whitelaw, executive director of the museum. “This is something where they can come back and start building it into a family habit. … These are iconic museum experiences for children that are really important.”

For more information, visit highdesertmuseum.org/little-wonders, or call 541-382-4754 ext. 244.

Savannah Damron and husband Charles Joye began bringing their family of five to the High Desert Museum three years ago.

“It’s like a new experience every time,” Damron said. Nearby, her three kids — ­Mason Damron, 6, Liam Damron, 5, and Ainsley Joye, 3 — scampered about as they watched the museum’s trio of otters. “The older they get, the more they can learn … which is really fun.”

The family was there to attend Little Wonders Night, a biannual, after-hours event for families with young children in Head Start, the early childhood education and services program created in 1965 as part of the Johnson administration’s war on poverty. The nonprofit NeighborImpact administers Head Start in Deschutes and Crook counties, serving more than 445 at-risk, disadvantaged children.

In addition to hosting these spring and autumn evenings at the nonprofit museum, Little Wonders is a year-round program that removes attendance obstacles for low-income families, including transportation and admission costs. Little Wonders Nights help get the families to the museum, where they receive a meal, take part in activities for kids and are awarded annual family memberships, which are normally $105. When families return with their kids during regular hours, they can also ask for a $10 Fred Meyer gas card at the admissions desk.

Prior to getting involved with NeighborImpact, Damron said, she wasn’t aware the museum existed.

“Getting the knowledge, and then the ability to come here, is pretty great,” she said.

Driving from Redmond was one of her family’s chief obstacles in getting to the museum.

“And then when we received the free passes, it’s kind of more of an inspiration to get out here. So we’re like, ‘Oh, we can go any time we want.’”

Her family is the type the museum hoped to reach with Little Wonders. It began in 2016 after the High Desert Museum approached NeighborImpact.

“We have been working for a number of years on the museum’s accessibility and being welcoming to as many members of the community as we can,” said Dana Whitelaw, executive director of the museum. “There are a lot of barriers to visiting museums — at our museum in particular transportation, admission. And then not everybody grows up with a museum-going habit. So, if that’s not something that your family ever did, then it’s typically not something that you’re going to do with your family.”

Head Start serves “the neediest of the needy” in Central Oregon, said Kimberly Brown, director of Head Start in Deschutes and Crook counties. “A single mom with one child, working full-time at minimum wage makes too much to be in our program.”

Head Start serves kids ages 3 to 5 and offers a free, high-quality preschool program in half-day and full-day classrooms in Deschutes and Crook counties. There’s also an Early Head Start home-­visit program for pregnant women and kids up to 3.

Head Start holds a monthly Family Night for its families. The evening includes dinner and is held to inspire social connection among the families, Brown said.

“We have Family Nights to try to get families together and network and build relationships so that if they have struggles throughout the year, they can work together through those,” she said. “If they have transportation needs, they build friendships, oftentimes they have those same kinds of things going on in the home. It provides a venue for that.”

On the months it’s happening, Little Wonders serves as Family Night. Brown was expecting about 814 people at the April event.

“It very much benefits our families,” she said. “Each year, we get better and better at it.”

In 2016, the first Little Wonders Night drew about 1,200 families, Brown said, “and it was too much.”

Now, the event is split into two: one in the fall for families from Bend and La Pine, another in the spring for those from Redmond and Prineville. (In Madras, Head Start is administered by the Mid-Columbia Children’s Council in Hood River.)

“People always say they’re going to come back. That was the goal of the program, for families to return,” said ­Charmaine Browning, Head Start education and quality manager. “A lot of times, their focus is on surviving, and sometimes that’s the barrier to doing some of those extracurricular activities. Not so much the money, or the time, but their focus is on survival.”

On Little Wonders Nights, NeighborImpact provides transportation to the museum. The gas cards and annual memberships help ensure return visits.

Jessie Dobbs, who works at Pappy’s Pizza in Redmond, was there on this April evening with her daughter, Kiani Darden, 5. Asked about her favorite thing at the museum, Kiani replied, “Otters!”

“Hey, it wasn’t the gift shop, so I like it,” said Dobbs, who estimates they’ve made the trip to the museum four or five times in the past year. “We have so many stuffed animals from here.”

Damron and Joye now take their kids to the museum two or three times a year, Damron said. Their first visit, when oldest child Mason was 3, was more of a quick walk-through.

“Now that they are 3 and up, they actually are learning. My 6-year-old just said, ‘Oh my gosh, is that their burrow?’ And I’m like, ‘How did you know that?’”

Joye added, “The first thing he said when he got here was he wanted to see the black widow.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0349 or djasper@bendbulletin.com

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