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Wilkinson to leave the KidZone

Photo by Josh Miller/Sierra Sun Barbara Wilkenson has a laugh Wednesday morning, reflecting on her tenure as executive director of the Kidzone Museum.
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Barbara Wilkinson is about to make another career change.

Wilkinson, the executive director of the KidZone Museum (formerly KidZone/Sierra Nevada Children’s Museum), came to the nonprofit activity center after working in sales for 21st Century Fox.

Now, after nearly three years at the helm of the KidZone, Wilkinson decided to return to the for-profit world and pursue a job in real estate. Her last day at the KidZone will be May 16.



“I think it was just time – time for somebody else to take [the KidZone] from here to its next point. I’ve totally enjoyed it, but I’m ready to move on,” Wilkinson said, sitting on an examination table in the doctor’s office exhibit at the museum.

For many, it may be difficult to imagine the KidZone Museum without Wilkinson. Even though she clocked in as a part-time employee, she put in many hours as the face behind KidZone by representing the museum in the community.



Roughly four years ago, parents and local agencies began the push for the KidZone as a way for the community to use Proposition 10 tobacco tax dollars, earmarked for children 0-5 years old. Parents wanted a place where children could work on gross motor skill development, especially in the winter.

“[The KidZone] came from a very grass-roots perspective from the get go,” Wilkinson said.

To get the $400,000 project off the ground community members wrote grant proposals, parents held bake sales and business owners wrote checks.

Wilkinson was hired as the KidZone’s executive director in June 2001, and the building was supposed to be open that September. However, the KidZone was plagued with construction and funding issues. Wilkinson served as the “de facto construction contact,” and the community came forward with the elbow grease and funding to open the KidZone in June 2002.

Finally, the community had a 3,600-square-foot facility with educational exhibits and a play area.

“It has been very rewarding,” Wilkinson said of her time with the KidZone. “It’s easy to go to people now and ask for help [donations] because they know about the KidZone, and people realize how valuable it is.”

Wilkinson’s daughter, Savannah, has grown up at the KidZone. Now 7 years old, Savannah has outgrown most of the exhibits and activities the KidZone has to offer.

“[Savannah] has been here quite a bit,” Wilkinson said. “She considers herself the assistant director. If you run in here, she’ll tell you to stop.”

KidZone moves on

More than 30 people have applied to replace Wilkinson at the KidZone. The position has been expanded to full time, which Wilkinson said is appropriate; running the KidZone is a big duty.

“It’s not just the job of running a nonprofit,” she said. “It’s also a business; it’s two intense jobs in one.”

But more important than the workload, Wilkinson said, the new executive director should be prepared for the community.

“The person should have appreciation for the innocence of the children and the spark of life they bring to this area, and the community involvement,” she said. “Be prepared to be bowled over by what this place means to this community.”

Wilkinson cries while talking about leaving the KidZone. She says she is grateful for being able to watch so many children grow up over the past few years.

Wilkinson curbs her emotions while discussing her hopes for the future of the KidZone. She will remain on the program committee, which helps plan exhibits and classes for the museum. And she still has big plans for the KidZone’s future.

“I’d ultimately like to see it in a bigger facility; broaden the ages for elementary students,” she said. “The sky is the limit. There’s so much we can do. But because of the community we live in, I don’t ever see it losing its grass-roots appeal – and that’s the big thing.”

Breakout:

KidZone: Big moves in last three years

– May 2001: KidZone’s metallic dome exterior erected.

– June 2001: Barbara Wilkinson hired as executive director.

– September 2001: Estimated date of completion.

– June 2002: One day before the museum opens, KidZone holds its first big fund-raiser at Dragonfly restaurant.

– July 2002: KidZone grand opening ceremony.

– April 2003: The museum holds its first Mardi Gras fund-raiser, which makes $20,000.

– September 2003: Sherry Pugh hired as assistant director.

– October 2003: Recognized as nonprofit of the year by the Truckee Donner Chamber of Commerce.

– January 2004: Make it Move, KidZone’s biggest exhibit to date, opens the museum to a broader range of ages.

– March 2004: Chosen by the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry to be one of five museums in the country to help plan OMSI’s next series of traveling exhibits.

– April 2004: KidZone rakes in more than $30,000 at this year’s Mardi Gras fund-raiser.


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