For the past 17 years, a small non-profit known as the Interactive Neighborhood for Kids allowed children to imagine themselves to be a doctor, banker, or whatever their hearts desired. Which is why when the museum’s pottery room suffered a small fire that then led to flooding that destroyed many of the children’s favorite exhibits in September, it left the organization with no choice but to close their doors.
“It was soul crushing,” Mandy Volpe, the executive director, said. “Our founder, this entire building was her baby. It’s her brainchild that it’s here. Honestly, it was so devastating, because it was damage to all of the exhibits, we couldn’t even have her come back here,” she said.
The museum’s sprinklers designed to protect the museum from fire left 24 inches of water and thousands of dollars in damage after the sprinkler system ran for several hours, Volpe said.
But the news of the devastation brought the community together. Several people came in to help with the rebuild and construction of INK. The museum gained a complete makeover from the floors to the walls.
“People of all ages have been up here helping us, everything from painting to construction. And just seeing everybody kind of do what they’re good at and find new skills it’s been incredible,” Volpe said.
Five months later, INK reopened their doors to the public. They kicked off the opening with a ribbon cutting ceremony which featured cake, snacks, and new exhibits for the kids to explore.
Nathaniel is just one of INK’s tiny visitors on opening day, and he said that his favorite part of the museum was the motorcycle shop.
“I like the motorbike, and building new wheels for my motorbike,” he said.
INK is a unique opportunity for kids in that it gives children the chance to try-on professions in the real world. The museum includes a town-like experience with a grocery store, diner, an airport, animal hospital, and many more hands-on exhibits.
Barbara Brooks, a member of the Gainesville City Council said that she was impressed with the outcome of the updated facility.
“It’s just beautiful, and so I encourage all people, especially people in Ward 3 where I represent, to come out to INK,” Brooks said. “And bring the grandbabies and great-grandbabies and let them explore and find out what things they’re interested in and how we can guide their profession. Invest in them so that they can have an intelligent decision-making process about what they want to do when they grow up,” she said.
Sherri Hooper, the founder of INK, says that she never imagined the success of her vision. The ribbon-cutting event was an emotional experience for her.
“I thought originally, this is just a silly thing a mom wanted to do many, many years ago,” Hooper said. “It’s become a vital component of our community, and it’s awesome.”