With an upcoming birthday just around the corner where supposedly I'll be going over some sort of hill, I recently decided to embrace my inner child by visiting one of Gulf Coast's hidden gems -- the Lynn Meadows Discovery Center For Children.
Located at 246 Dolan Ave., the Discovery Center is housed in the old Mississippi City Elementary School building that was originally constructed in 1915.
Completely renovated, the 15,000-square-foot building is home to Mississippi's first children's museum, and is filled with exhibits that encourage visitors to explore, discover, inspire and have fun.
The Discovery Center opened its doors in May of 1998, after getting initial funding from the Gulfport Junior Auxiliary in 1991. A non-profit organization, it was founded by Rose Alman and Carole Lynn Meadows, whose mission is to inspire children, families and communities through interactive educational experiences and exploration. The museum was named in memory of Carole Lynn and Joe Meadows' daughter, who died in a car accident in 1984.
When I first arrived, I was met by Sonya Gillis, director of marketing and public relations.
Gillis originally started working at the Discovery Center as a volunteer three years ago, but when her current position became available after six months, she told me she jumped at the chance.
THE GRAND TOUR
Offering to give me a tour, Gillis explained there are currently 15 exhibits throughout the property, and they're always looking to add or change things based on feedback to keep the visitor experience fresh.
Gillis first showed me her favorite, the grocery store, where kids can shop from the stocked shelves or even play cashier. Gillis said it reminds her of when she was a child, playing for days in one she and her sister made in her bedroom.
SECOND FLOOR EXHIBITS
Moving our way through the rest of the second floor exhibits, I got to see The "Celebrate the World We Share" section, which introduces children to various cultures, and currently is showcasing Africa.
When I asked Gillis which of the exhibits is the most popular, she turned my attention to the center of the building where the "Super Colossal Climbing Structure" stands.
"When I first started working here they said that I had to be initiated, and made me climb up in there," Gillis said. "It felt sort of weird, but it was kind of cool."
I can certainly attest to this, as after I hesitantly climbed in, I found that the floating-on-air sensation the wire safety netting provided was definitely pretty neat.
Making our way down to the lower level, we first made a stop at the Center's newest exhibit, the "Pet Vet," where kids can take on the role of a veterinarian.
From there we visited "The Dolan Avenue Depot," where children can board a replica of a train, and then over to "The Port," where youngsters can drag the Gulf for shrimp and operate a crane to help load bananas.
Up next was a stop at the "Art Knows Anything Goes" art studio, where the day's featured project was getting to make art prints by rolling paint over various fish shapes. While the one I made didn't turn out anywhere near as good as some of the children's, the very kind art teacher did attempt to make me feel better by pointing out that mine looked like it was "taking a dive down for a swim."
THE GREAT OUTDOORS
With so many things to do indoors, many of the children are content to just stay inside, but with 6 acres of outdoor play space as well, there is so much more to see and do.
For instance, I got to climb aboard one of the first things acquired by the museum, an authentic submersible donated by the Naval Oceanographic Office at Stennis Space Center.
Then there's the "Tree House Village," which are wheelchair accessible play houses in the tops of 100-year-old oak trees.
MAKE A DAY OF IT
With so much to see and do, Gillis told me that they encourage people to make a day of it.
"You can get your hand stamped, bring a picnic, and go in and out all day long," she said.
WINGS PERFORMING ARTS CENTER AND CAFE
Going back inside, we wrapped up the tour by taking a look at WINGS Performing Arts Center and Café to the Stars, a theater where students put on six ensemble productions a year, and a Viking kitchen designed by world-renowned chef Emeril Lagasse, used to host cooking classes for both kids and adults.
BEST PART OF THE JOB
Before I left, I asked Cindy DeFrances, executive director of the Center, what her favorite aspect is of working at the museum.
"I love being around the kids and all the families interacting with their children," DeFrances said. "I just love seeing all the fun they have every day. It's hyped up all the time. Fast-paced and action- packed. It's a great place to be."
The Lynn Meadows Discovery Center is located at 246 Dolan Avenue in Gulfport, and is open seven days a week during the summer months, Tuesday through Sunday after Labor Day. For more information please call 228-897-6039 or visit www.lmdc.org
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