Meet-a-Mom: Merredith Christos, Director of EverWonder Children’s Museum | Newtown Moms

EverWonder Children’s Museum, a local favorite for families in Newtown, offers hands-on exhibits & programming that spark the imagination in the fields of science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics. Run by Newtown mom of 3, Merredith Christos, EverWonder aims to cultivate a life-long love of learning in children by encouraging them to think, inquire, and wonder about the world around them. I had the chance to speak with Merredith at the museum recently about current programs, events & exhibits, what she has planned for the future, and of course what she loves about living in Newtown.

Merredith, thanks so much for taking the time to participate in this! Let’s start out finding out a little bit about you before we jump in to talking about the museum. Child(ren) and Age(s)?
Andy is 11 and in 6th grade at Reed Intermediate. Jacob & Jackson (twins) are 8 and in 3rd grade at Head O Meadow Elementary.

One thing people would be surprised to know about you…
Most people think I’ve always lived in CT, but I was born & raised in Bloomington, MN until I was 11 years old. My strong, Minnesotan accent comes back in full-force when I’m around anyone else from the midwest.

Favorite things to do with your family?
Between my 3 boys, my husband James, and my schedules, we’re always busy. As a family, we love participating in Scouts, hiking, and camping (although my idea of camping is a little closer to Troop Beverly Hills style). We also love skiing, thrill rides/roller coasters, and games. Our favorite this past summer was Four Square, and it can get very competitive at my house.

Favorite spot in Newtown?
There are too many to choose from, including the lookout from the top of Castle Hill Rd, Ferris Acres Creamery, and our quintessential Main Street. But my favorite spot to reflect is definitely Fairfield Hills. Something about the old architecture and beautiful campus makes me thankful to live in such an amazing town.

Best thing about living in town and running a local nonprofit?
I turned down returning to a lucrative sales job because I saw more value in staying close to my boys so I wouldn’t miss a thing. While running a non-profit doesn’t overfill my pocketbook, it gives me so much joy to be able to have the flexibility to be involved within the schools and watch my boys (and their friends) grow. I love making my town better and investing in our community at large.

Best thing about being a mom?
The hugs. Let’s face it – being a mom is the hardest job I’ve ever had and ever will have, but at the end of the very worst day, just one hug from one of my boys makes everything okay.

Now on to all things related to EverWonder…Can you share more about the Museum? When did it open? And when did you take over as Director?
EverWonder was founded in 2011 by a group of Newtown moms!!! (shoutout to those ladies) We began as the EverWonder Experience, a small, weekend spot where kids could learn about and play with a few science exhibits and labs. EverWonder opened its doors at 31 Pecks Lane in April of 2015, and we’ve been here ever since. Although I attended as a visitor with my 3 boys, I didn’t start working here until June 2018, when I was hired as the Operations & Outreach Manager. After a busy first summer, the board was able to hire me as their first full-time Executive Director in the fall that same year, and it’s been a wild ride since then. It truly is a job with no two days alike, and a job where my title really doesn’t explain what I do, but I love EverWonder and I love being a part of this community.

I know your busy camp season just wrapped up a few weeks ago. What do you have planned for the Fall and early 2022?
We ran our last camp the week of 8/30 (pre-k camp) as schools are back in session. After camp ended, our regular events return, such as Mrs. Fagan’s Story Lab & Science with Ms. Sheila. We also restarted our early dismissal programs, where Newtown students get to participate in STEM challenges, science experiments, and enjoy the museum to themselves. We’re also thrilled to announce our Halloween Spooktacular will return this year on Halloween weekend. Painting with maggots, magnetic slime, & Boo Bubbles are some of my favorite activities that day.

EverWonder partners with organizations throughout the Greater Danbury area. Can you share a few other places we can find the museum’s programs during the remainder of the year?
One of my favorite things is finding new organizations to collaborate with among our local community. EverWonder has always partnered with our local libraries and continues to offer outreach programs around Fairfield County. Our programming can also be found often at the Newtown Community Center, including Wonders of Water summer camp, free community STEM challenges, and our Mini Wonders program, perfect for the youngest scientists. We also completed a two week collaboration for Soccer STEAM Camp with the Newtown Soccer Club, and are planning an after-school program with AIM Athletics at NYA as well. We have loved developing new programming and finding new places to bring STEAM education. I hope we continue to build these relationships and foster new ones as we grow.

You have your annual “Science of Mixology” fundraiser planned for November. I’m so happy to see the event is back! Can you share more about what’s planned? Where will the event be taking place, and are you seeking sponsorships from businesses?
Me too! I’m so happy to bring this event back. This year’s theme, the Science of Mixology, cocktails & canapés for a cause, will be at Marygold’s on Main, right in the center of Newtown. They have been terrific to work with and we’re excited to create a unique event with their help. The VIP hour will kick off the fundraiser with a class taught by Marygold’s own mixologist, who will help us understand the science behind mixology. Regular tickets will include food, drinks (both specialty and non-alcoholic), and a live auction. All donations made will help support EverWonder’s causes, scholarships, and outreach programs. We’re actively searching for sponsors interested in supporting science education and anyone can reach out to me directly for more information [contact MChristos@everwondermuseum.org]. Similar to last year, it’s been an extremely difficult 18 months for the museum and we would love any support from the community, whether through tickets, sponsorships, or just a museum visit.

Like all small businesses and nonprofits, the pandemic affected the museum causing you to close for a full 6 months. What are some of the ways you pivoted during that time? What new programs have started and gained traction as a result?
I have to laugh…every time I hear the word “Pivot!” I immediately hear Ross from FRIENDS and picture the famous couch scene. But we’ve had to have some things to laugh about this past year. I’m a firm believer in EverWonder’s mission including “hands-on learning” and while some museums have opted to go virtual, we did our best to bring the museum to you! Our biggest hit to date was our Science-To-Go boxes, created and made with care by our lead volunteer, Mrs. Fagan. We sold over 100 kits within the first 24 hours, and continued to sell them throughout the year. It was our sole income for a while. We also created a preschool program called Little Wonders in the fall/winter to offer a controlled, low number preschool when parents weren’t quite ready to send them to the larger preschools. Working with the Newtown Community Center, we found that due to the pandemic, parents of the youngest 2 & 3 year olds were looking for safe programming and created a spin-off for them called Mini Wonders.

In addition to programming, the museum has had to adapt & change to the times. A new online ticketing system sells timed tickets and reservations, and helps us to control the number of visitors in the museum at any given time. Masks have been required at the museum since reopening in September 2020 and our visitors, even the youngest, have been great at following the rules. EverWonder also invested in changing the museum’s filtration system and has been using a new electrostatic fogger to disinfect the museum between visitors. Lastly, we reopened under a limited capacity and continue to do so to make everyone feel more comfortable and safe. We are happy to share that our visitors’ feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and thankful for having a safe, open space for children to continue learning during this unique time.

While I never want to repeat the circumstances we had to deal with these past 18 months, the museum survived a pandemic and has proven to be a valued and trusted part of our community. I love what I do. I love seeing children wonder, think, and be inspired. And no masks can ever cover a child’s pure excitement when a new discovery is made.

EverWonder Children’s Museum is located at 31 Pecks Lane, Newtown, CT. Please visit their website for hours, special events, and visitor details. For membership details and info on membership perks, click here. I want to thank Merredith for participating in this special Meet-a-Mom series sponsored by the Connecticut Department of Economic & Community Development and Office of the Governor. For more stories on how our state’s small businesses are helping us build strong communities, please visit doyouthingct.org and help us to celebrate Connecticut’s small businesses.

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