GUEST BLOG BY ANYA HARDEN, PHILANTHROPY INTERN
As a child, my family made an annual pilgrimage from southern Mississippi to Huntsville, Alabama to attend camp meetings on the campus of Oakwood University, the institution that I now attend. During stretches of time in which the meeting failed to keep my siblings and I occupied, my parents took it upon themselves to explore the city with us and find places that would soon become long-awaited destinations in themselves. One of those places was the U.S Space and Rocket Center. As the children of nerds, we were enthralled with the different exhibits, displays, and activities centered around history and science found at the center. Every year we would trip over each other trying to see the new theme of the main exhibit or attempting to be first in line to ride Space Shot (now titled Moon Shot).
That is until the COVID-19 pandemic halted our travels and forced our adventure-hungry family inside for months. That year also hit USSRC particularly hard as the lack of foot traffic left it in jeopardy of closure. It was forced to lay off 90% of their full-time employees and temporarily shut down their Space Camp program, which was responsible for developing a love for science in the almost 1 million young campers like myself. It was at this point that USSRC had to turn to the generosity of its community and patrons to survive.
“The coronavirus pandemic has created a dire situation at our beloved Space & Rocket Center,” said John Nerger, chairman of the Alabama Space Science Exhibit Commission, according to Alabama.com. “And we are now struggling for our very survival.”
Aided by a public relations firm local to the Tennessee Valley area, USSRC took to social media and called on everyone who had ever enjoyed Space Camp, with a goal of raising $1.5 million. Remarkably, it was able to garner and exceed the amount of money requested within seven days of their initial appeal. Today the U.S. Space & Rocket Center is up and running along with the Space Camp, continuing to foster a love of STEM in kids, including my now rocket-obsessed little brother who just joined the Engineering Academy at his high school.
This story not only highlights the important role of generosity, but also the capacity and care that Huntsville-area citizens have in their hearts for their local organizations. There are many of worthy nonprofits in need of our support that do not have access to PR firms or heavily-trafficked social media presences. In my short tenure as a Philanthropy Intern at the Community Foundation of Greater Huntsville, I have seen how this organization strives to match the generosity of donors with nonprofits serving in areas that they passionately care about. By tapping into the love Huntsvillians have for their region and sharing just how beautiful (and simple) giving can be, we can create a Greater Huntsville community all of children can reach for the stars… or beyond.