It's no stretch to say the Jersey Shore Children's Museum was built by the same small hands it has served for almost 15 years.
One of the first fundraisers that museum co-founder Linda Szypula organized when getting the project off the ground was one in which, for a $5 donation, kids could make a framed paint handprint.
Many of these handprints hung at the museum's first location on Fire Road in Egg Harbor Township, and still hang to this day at its second, at the Shore Mall - but they won't for much longer.
A few months ago, Szypula and Sue Gunther, the other co-founder, were informed that their section of the mall would close at the end of December. They were given until the end of January to pack up and move on. Faced with the real possibility of seeing more than a decade of hard work come to an end, Szypula is again asking those who believe in the museum for help.
"We're just reaching out to the community now," Szypula said. "It's the community who came together to put us here, so we're hoping the community comes back together and keeps us here."
As word of closure got around, Szypula and supporters of the museum began an awareness campaign to make their plight known to the community, in the hope they might rally together to find the museum a new home.
On Dec. 22, Szypula held an event called Save the Jersey Shore Children's Museum at the mall, inviting local children to partake in several fun events, such as a puppet show, kids' Zumba, and arts and crafts. Face-painter Heather Hires and Little Angels princesses also entertained at the event.
Carrie and Jeremy Rice, of Northfield, brought their children, Paul, 6; Lydia, 5, and Holly, 3, to the event. As a native of Minnesota, where long winters force many activities indoors, Carrie grew up with several year-round options for kids. New Jersey has few such facilities, she said, meaning the museum's closure would be a serious blow to area kids and parents.
"New Jersey just does not have enough indoor facilities for children," she said. "You have to drive pretty far to go somewhere as educational and safe and appropriate for younger kids."
This March will mark 15 years since the museum opened. In that time, it has become an area institution. A generation of children have grown up learning and playing in its community-sponsored exhibits, which range from a mock grocery store donated by ShopRite to an interactive anatomy lesson courtesy of Klingert Family Chiropractic Center.
Word of the museum's closure generated a large volume of support for the effort to save the museum, said Mari Dattolo, committee chairwoman.
"I got about 30 calls this morning from 9 a.m. to the last 10 minutes," Dattolo said. "People are really concerned."
Despite the strong response, relocation will not be an easy task. First on Szypula's agenda is finding a place to store the museum's supplies and decorations, which Szypula said she has nearly finalized. Next, new locations must be scouted, and so far, sites in Mays Landing and Ocean City have emerged as leading candidates.
Once a new location is leased, Szypula will need the community's funds and work to retrofit the new space to one that can house the museum.
The move will be tough, but Szypula and Dattolo are confident that it will be done. Dattolo said she is certain the void in the community will be short-lived.
"I think it's going to be a big loss to the community - but temporary," Dattolo said. "A temporary loss."
To donate or to assist in finding a new home for the Jersey Shore Children's Museum, call 609-645-7741 or email
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