We’d like to welcome our newest Lo-Down contributor, Erin Egan Rodriguez. Erin is a local resident, a working mom, a part-time student and a real estate agent. She sent us this story after leading fundraising efforts for a program that was in danger of being lost at her children’s school, PS110.
Raising a family in New York City is an extraordinary experience. There is so much to offer our children when it comes to art, history, culture — it’s endless! As a parent of three children, I want to show them the world but am restricted by those pesky things like time and money. We often go to museums in the five boroughs to explore and learn. With the economy in the tank and museum entry fees on the rise, it is becoming harder and harder to facilitate these outings. Gaining free access would be amazing, right?
Cool Culture, a program I learned about last year through P.S.110, offers passes to pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students to countless museums and cultural venues for no fee. The program works with public schools to help some of our city’s youngest gain a foundation of exploration and knowledge – and to become savvy museum-goers at an early age.
Cool Culture was founded in 1999 to allow low-income families access to New York City’s cultural life. “We encourage and equip families to be their child’s first educator!” says Barbara Palley, Cool Culture’s education manager. The non-profit organization serves over 400 early childhood programs and 50,000 families. They hold fundraisers to keep the program’s costs as low as possible. Participating schools contribute a fee towards the subsidized program.
The lack of information or a perception that museums are “not for us” causes so many families to miss out on thought provoking experiences. Many museums offer child-focused programs, especially on the weekends. It is a great way to get the kids out of the house on bad weather days, make play dates or just spend some family time doing something out of the ordinary.
Cool Culture is not just about the passes. The program that P.S. 110 participates in offers guidance to school staff about how to take full advantage of free museum visits. Through their years of experience, the Cool Culture team has found that – without outreach – families usually don’t use the passes they have been given. Although the pass removes a financial barrier, the program’s success depends on the involvement of a trusted member of the parent community who can help get the word out.
Due to budget cuts and other financial restrictions, P.S. 110 was not able to finance this project for the 2011-2012 school year. So a team of parents came together and volunteered to set the wheels in motion. We coordinated with the school and the Cool Culture administration to collect each family’s paperwork and to organize and distribute the passes. We worked with the school’s Parent Coordinator, Millie Candelaria, and Principal, Karen Feuer, to get this done. The team was able to raise money from multiple sources. With the help of the Tarandi Foundation’s generous gift we pulled it off. Students received their passes right before the December holiday break.
Times are tough economically. But Cool Culture is providing a priceless experience for our community. I would like to extend a big thank you to all the parents, the Tarandi Foundation and everyone else who assisted in this labor of love. When asking my 6-year old daughter what she wanted to do last Sunday afternoon, she replied, “Let’s go to the MoMA!” Thank you Cool Culture for allowing us to instill a love of museums in our city’s next generation.