The Interactive Neighborhood for Kids offered North Georgia residents a chance Sunday in Gainesville to learn how to react in emergencies.
INK held its second annual Personal & Family Preparedness Fair, offering free admission to residents the 26 counties it serves.
“It’s truly a vision of me being a mom, a stay-at-home mom, wanting more for my kids and their friends,” said Sheri Hooper, founder and executive director of INK. “And it’s just grown, and it’s grown now to my kids being all the kids in North Georgia and I just love it.
“The greatest gift in the world is to have a kid, no matter if he’s 2 or 92, have a smile on their face when they walk through those doors.”
INK is a nonprofit that offers a safe environment for children to explore through hands-on exhibits featuring different professions and situations, enabling them to imagine, grow and learn.
During the event, the parking lot was filled with various emergency vehicles, from traditional firetrucks and helicopters to the trucks for the Red Cross and first responders responsible for removing debris from the road. “What our event is today is to really teach families of all ages,” Hooper said. “From beginning early on that there is a way to prepare our whole community, whether it is a weather emergency or any other emergency, that the people you see here are your friends, that they are professionals. They’re trying to make sure you’re as safe as possible no matter what’s going on.
“We want to train these kids at a very early age that they are your friends; they’re here to help you, instead of seeing somebody and getting scared. We also want to make these kids a product of being a solution to our problem instead of panicking and us having to worry about these kids, ‘Did they run and hide?’ instead they know what to do.”
While the parking lot provided a chance to learn about various emergency experts from the responders themselves and get a peek at what they do, the inside of INK was also open. Without events like the Preparedness Fair and school field trips, some children may not be able to experience the one-of-a-kind, hands-on exhibits.
At the entrance to the fair, everyone was offered a backpack and given a list that has many of the essentials children might need if an emergency were to happen. Throughout the exhibits, stations are set up where children receive a bandage for minor scrapes, a pen and pad of paper to write down important details they need to remember, a whistle to alert help to their location, and a compass to find their way.
The event also marked the opening of the Red Cross exhibit, where volunteers guided visitors with a checklist of what to do during a natural disaster, and went over other tips on preventing unnecessary accidents in the home.
“We’re trying to make sure the kids tell their parents once a month to check the smoke detectors and to create a fire program in the event it happens,” said Frank Atkinson, a Red Cross volunteer.
A group of volunteers from North Hall High School, one of them a returning guest of INK, manned many of the booths inside. Lauren Carey visited INK as an elementary student, winning a contest in fourth grade to decorate the airplane in one of the exhibits.
“There’s no other place you can come and see what you might want to be when you grow up, whether it’s pretending to be a doctor or a dentist, it’s a very unique place,” Carey said. “I used to live in South Hall and there was nothing like this.” She still remembers the Books-A-Million gift card and the chance to ride in the plane before it was custom-painted with her design and added to one of the exhibits.
“We’ve been here since 2002, Sheri actually started this in her home,” said Charles Bramwell, director of operations for INK. “When her husband was doing an internship and she wanted somewhere for her kids to play that was safe, it started in her home and then mothers’ groups, and then it just grew.”
In 2013, INK had over 70,000 visitors, including field trips and birthday parties. All the money it is raising will go toward a new facility that, while remaining in Hall County, will offer double the square footage.
“It will be much like what we have here but the difference will be the museum is going to be broken up into career clusters and coincide more with the Georgia Professional Standards of Education,” Bramwell said. “Much of our hands-on stuff and the way we present our museum meets the Georgia Pre-K requirements, and we’re trying to align ourselves more with education programs. So far it’s going very well.”