Co-authored by Max Nishimura and Danielle Owens
The Exploratory was a project that originated from summer camps. Jean, our founder and ‘chief tinkerer’, wanted to provide her son and his friends activities that would encourage creative and innovative thinking. As the popularity of her program grew, she began doing after-school programs at various schools, working out of her minivan. As the supplies and materials needed to provide these classes grew and grew, she needed a place to store everything. This was the beginning of the Exploratory.
Since then, we have expanded from a mom working out of her minivan to an organization that now employs 8 part-time educators providing after school programs to 10 schools in the greater Los Angeles area, a Maker Preschool ( PeaPods SchoolHouse ), The Exploratory maker space, and a non-profit program called Maker Guilds that provides programs to schools, libraries and other youth serving organizations.
Within the first 2 weeks of service we helped organize and run The Explora-Winter Wonderland STEAM Festival. The festival served as a fundraiser that reached over 60 youth and their families from the community and raised $2,4000 from ticket sales, which will enable us to facilitate making and STEAM workshops in local libraries. Attendees enjoyed 13 different maker activities ranging from the Nerdy Derby to Jingle Bots. Looking back on the event we can truly say it primed us for the work to come. We failed, tinkered, and discovered just as makers should, learning a lot about the making process and the process a non-profit has to go through to hold a successful fundraiser.
The highlights of our VISTA journey thus far have been hosting 40 middle school age girls from MOSTe (a mentor organization for young women in underserved Los Angeles) in making LED powered pop-up cards and balloon powered vehicles, holding a professional development for educators from Sinai Akiba to excite them about a maker space we are helping them create, and teaming up with our co-workers to brainstorm new curriculum and plan future projects. These activities give us a peek into the potential of the Maker Movement in our community and allow us to see how we are building the capacity of Maker Guilds.
We have also identified and created marketing materials and curriculum for libraries in the Los Angeles Public Library system and have 4 libraries on our schedule – ranging from a 1 time session to a series of 4 e-textiles programs. We are creating a field trip program for local public and private schools with maker projects aligned to NGSS and Common Core Standards.
Currently, our efforts are geared towards building a bustling Los Angeles Young Makers community, implementing a sustainable volunteer program, raising funds through Rally to give scholarships to girls from low income neighborhoods to attend our summer camps, and developing a plan to launch a Kickstarter to build a Maker Guilds Mobile Unit.
Our Young Makers program begins this upcoming Friday and we are very excited to bring teens into our maker space. We have already recruited an amazing team of volunteer fellows that will mentor this Young Makers community, with backgrounds ranging from woodworking, ceramics and physics, to electrical and biomedical engineering.
Volunteers are vital to any non-profit organization and finding trained and dedicated individuals is always a challenge. We identified and developed a volunteer program that addresses the needs of both the volunteer and our organization in order to utilize our volunteers’ time in the most productive way. So far, we have recruited three wonderful fellows, specializing in ceramics, woodworking, and electronics.