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Volunteers work to help INK rebuild following flooding. Here’s how you can help
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Juan Guzman, right, and Emery Fortin move carts of water-damaged items Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018, from the back of the Interactive Neighborhood for Kids. Volunteers gathered to help clean up at the Gainesville children's museum following flooding caused by sprinklers. - photo by Scott Rogers

The stench of water damage at the Interactive Neighborhood for Kids is evident Tuesday morning as soon as you enter the front doors of the popular family attraction in Gainesville — despite the dozens of commercial fans running, a plastic duct pumping in fresh air and the ongoing work to clear out and clean up the facility.

A small fire set off the sprinkler system in the pottery studio area over the weekend, and flooding consumed most of the back portion of the nonprofit children’s play museum.

It could be weeks or months before INK reopens, and field trips, parties, educational classes and other scheduled events have been postponed indefinitely, according to Executive Director Mandy Volpe.

INK is located in the Featherbone Communiversity at 999 Chestnut St. with 25,000 square feet of professionally staged exhibits. The museum averages about 75,000 guests annually.

Power and water remain out at the location.

How to help the Interactive Neighborhood for Kids rebuild

  • Make a gift card donation or direct contribution at

  • Volunteer to clean up by contacting Executive Director Mandy Volpe at or 770-536-1900

  • Stay up to date on INK’s progress by visiting its Facebook page.

  • Attend the Personal & Family Preparedness Fair from 1-4 p.m. Sept. 30 outside of INK. The free event will teach personal and home preparedness as well as provide emergency backpacks for kids.

But Volpe, surrounded Sept. 11 by waterlogged displays, exhibits and other features as work to clean up the museum continued, said she and her staff have vowed to rebuild.

“The community has rallied around us,” she added, with volunteers from Keep Hall Beautiful and New Beginnings, a ministry in Northeast Georgia, pitching in.

Carts, boxes and cabinets of damaged toys, books and play equipment were rolled out one by one.

Ventilating the facility will remain critical to prevent mold developing, and carpeting will have to be replaced.

“We’re going to make sure it’s safe for the kids,” said Jerry Deyton, a pastor and founder of The Way homeless mission in Gainesville, who was on hand Tuesday with a truck to help clear out the museum.

Some of what could be salvaged is being donated to a thrift store operated by New Beginnings.

And that’s a blessing in disguise for Volpe. She said some of these items were meant for donations, anyhow.

In a press release, INK founder Sheri Hooper said, “This is such an unfortunate event in the life of INK. Our dreams have been challenged for the moment. However, with the help of our loving community we will return to continue our mission to create a unique environment in which children of all ages, abilities and experiences can feel free to imagine, create and explore beyond their dreams."

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Juan Guzman carts loads of books out on INK Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018, as cleanup begins following heavy water damage caused by sprinklers that engaged due to a small fire in the pottery studio area. - photo by Scott Rogers

Other major damage includes museum storage of future exhibits, electronics and pottery bowls made for the Georgia Mountain Food Bank’s Empty Bowl Lunch later this month.

Volpe said INK has already been fundraising for a move to a new location as its programs, exhibits and demands for educational classes grows.  

“INK is a great tourism partner and we are saddened to hear about damage to their exhibit,” Regina Dyer, tourism director for the Gainesville Convention & Visitors Bureau, said in a press release. “They are a resilient group, and we believe the museum will fully recover and potentially expand following this event since they always go above and beyond everyone’s expectations in everything they do. We encourage the community to continue giving support to this educational and entertaining tourism attraction.”

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