The Montshire Museum of Science has been encouraging children to experiment and play hands-on with interactive exhibits since the mid-1970s. While the museum has flourished – currently seeing well over 100,000 visitors each year – the administration has made sure access to the museum is affordable for all families.
In January 2014, the Warm Welcome program was launched. With an EBT card, a Medicaid card, or a letter from a school, children and families can qualify for reduced admission. A family museum membership for four people is $100, but with Warm Welcome, qualifying families can receive membership for $15. Daily admission rates for those participating in Warm Welcome are reduced to $2 per person – normally $14-$16 for adults and $11-$13 for children.
The museum started Warm Welcome to reach a “broad cross-section” of the community, said Jennifer Rickards, the Montshire’s Associate Director and Director of Development and Visitor Services. “For many years, we distributed free admission passes to dozens of human service agencies, and we still do, but we knew that we were missing a large population of people who were not receiving social services but still couldn’t afford a Montshire visit,” explained Rickards.
Museum staff met with with local nonprofits, families, other museums, and state agencies to figure out the best way to offer access to all people, regardless of their financial status. “We have established eligibility criteria that enable us to serve families whose household income is up to 200% of the federal poverty limit,” Rickards said. “People show an EBT card, a Medicaid card with an adult’s name on it, or a letter from a school saying that the family qualifies for the free or reduced-price school meals program.”
In addition to reduced admission and membership, Warm Welcome provides scholarships to children for the museum’s summer camp, a reduced wintertime admission for underfunded schools, free passes through approximately 110 Vermont and New Hampshire state agencies, and free use of meeting rooms for non-profits.
To support Warm Welcome, the Montshire receives funding from a number of sources, including donor-level memberships, gifts and grants, the Montshire Access Fund (a fund within the museum’s endowment), auction donations, the Keller Family Fund for Special Needs, and the Jack and Dorothy Byrne Foundation.
Rickards said that in 2015, 13 percent of about 160,000 visitors used reduced admission and currently 25 percent of members have joined through Warm Welcome. “It’s clear that we’re responding to a need in our community,” she said.
Rickards shared a comment from a family participating in the Warm Welcome program:
“Being able to visit truly made us feel a part of a culture we have wanted to participate in, but have been largely excluded from, as the result of our socioeconomic status. We thank you for opening the opportunity to share, learn, and play with our family without feeling singled out as the ‘poor people’.”
Another family, Rickards shared, said they appreciated the “discreet” and “respectful” nature of the Warm Welcome program.
“Our primary goal is to make the world a better place by encouraging people to be intellectually curious, to ask good questions, and to explore the world around us,” she said.
“We do that through engagement in hands-on science learning. Children’s brains are physically shaped by experiences in their 0-3 years, and people of all ages benefit from lifelong learning.”