About Sheri Hooper
Age: Let’s just say I’m still a kid at heart!
Length of time in Hall County: 14-plus years in Hall County, but I’ve spent most all of my life in Northeast Georgia.
Education: Gainesville State College, North Georgia College, University of Virginia
Occupation: Volunteer Founder/Director on Interactive Neighborhood for Kids
Most interesting and challenging job: Being a mom
Family information: Married to Trevor Hooper; son, Tyler, 15; twin daughters, Emily and Katie, 14
Each Monday, “5 Questions” asks someone in our community to answer five questions about their lives. If you know someone who would be a good subject for this feature, send their name and contact information to email@example.com.
What started 10 years ago as a group of friends meeting for Bible study has turned into Sheri Hooper’s great passion. As the executive director of the Interactive Neighborhood for Kids, Hooper oversees a growing, hands-on museum that will touch the lives of nearly 75,000 visitors this year, a record number.
Today, The Times asks Hooper five questions about why she loves INK so much and what she hopes for its future.
1. How did you get involved with INK?
INK is my baby. It all began by a group of friends and their children meeting in the basement of our home once a week for Bible study.
The children would enjoy playing in the playroom that had been set up with different stations as we watch over them during our study. Friends would invite others and we quickly outgrew our space.
In talking with others, the vision and passion for a fun, safe environment for young families was not only a need for our group, but it seemed to be a need for many families in our community. With that began the mission of creating an environment for that purpose.
I began talking with business leaders and others within our community to see what we could do.
During this time, I visited a children’s museum in San Antonio, Texas. I knew this was the concept our community needed. So, I took a huge leap of faith to give the idea a try.
We found a great building right off the downtown square at the Arts Council complex. The lease was signed and we went to work immediately painting, replacing floors and digging through basements trying to find furniture that would give our stations the feel of a scaled down neighborhood just the right size for kids.
After five months of build-out, we opened the 5,000 square feet of INK. I had no idea what to expect. It was slow at first, but once the word got out, we quickly outgrew our space.
We have since gone from 5,000 square feet to 25,000 square feet. It has continued to be a passion and love that I have to see families of young children have time together to communicate and have fun by learning and growing together.
2. Does it take more to keep a child interested today than it did years ago?
Yes, I believe so in some ways. My generation grew up having the freedom to play outside and, of course, we grew up before the time of electronic games and computers. We used our imagination to keep ourselves busy. It was just expected.
Today, the dynamics of the family have changed in so many ways. All parents want to provide the best for their child and give them more than they had growing up. Many times, we end up doing things for them instead of teaching them to do it for themselves.
Children have become used to staying busy every moment of the day. With technology advancing so quickly, answers that we once had to do great research on now can be answered at the touch of a button. I sometimes wonder if we are keeping our kids so busy doing things, we will burn them out before they are grown.
I believe we need to take time to let kids play and allow them to learn through their thoughts and actions. Will they make mistakes? Yes. But would it not be easier to let them learn from small mistakes that can be a teaching tool instead of allowing them to get out in the real world and make mistakes that they cannot rebound from easily?
3. What is your favorite area of INK and why?
I love the ’50s diner. I love the whole concept of the room incorporating history, music, service and fun — all in one. I love to watch as all generations enter the room and they are all transferred into kids. You see the kids and adults alike serve one another along with grandparents begin to share stories of their childhood by beginning their sentences as: “I remember when ...” It is wonderful to see and hear the communication of having families learn and grow together.
4. What is your favorite moment as director of INK?
That is a tough question! It seems that I could actually share a favorite moment of every day at INK.
Every day is different. It brings me great joy to observe (children) as they walk around the corner to the exhibit space for the first time and hear “wow” and see their face light up with a wonderful smile.
Many of the children who come with their school on field trips never get the opportunity to experience hands-on learning the way we provide it here.
Other prized moments include families that share emotional stories with me of their autistic child finally being able to feel the freedom to explore on their own.
As much as a parent hates this, the ultimate compliment we receive is the actions of a child kicking and screaming because it is time to go. My office has a great view of the families coming and going and I spend a lot of time just watching the interaction of the families as this happens.
Now that we are coming upon our 10th year in business, I often hear from teens that come back to visit how much INK meant to them as a child. Even some of them wanting to still play by wanting to volunteer or work with us.
5. What is one thing that INK needs to help it succeed for another 10 years?
More space! As any business or organization knows, you have to grow and change as the environment changes. We are no different.
We have to continually upgrade, add and change exhibits to meet the needs of our visitors. This year alone we have grown close to 17 percent over last year. It has been this way from INK’s beginning.
We are reaching families from above the Georgia state line to beyond south Atlanta. If the trend continues, we will reach over 75,000 visitors this year alone.
Our future goals for the visitors at INK are to create areas to the museum that would reach beyond life skills. I envision an international avenue that would give children a little taste of the whole world around them.
We already have donations of exhibits that we just don’t have the space for currently such as a helicopter, plans for a commercial kitchen and more.
INK is currently self-sustaining by covering our operating costs such as rent, salaries, utilities, etc., with the revenue received through admissions, field trips, birthday parties, gift shop and pottery studio. We rely on private donations and sponsorships to make programming and exhibit space happen.
We at INK need the help of others to make this happen. Our goal is to double the space we have currently in a location that has easy access for our visitors.
As a nonprofit organization we cannot do this alone. What better way to prepare our kids for the future than to train them while they are young.