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Thousands of Low-Income, At-Risk Families Visit Aquarium Through Expanded, Revamped Free to Learn Program
Free admission and free transportation made the Monterey Bay Aquarium accessible to thousands of people from low-income, at-risk and underserved communities in 2012 through the aquarium’s revamped and expanded Free to Learn program.
Thousands more will visit in 2013 through partnerships with government agencies, nonprofit social services organizations and Monterey-Salinas Transit.
Free to Learn is one of several free-admission programs offered by the not-for-profit Monterey Bay Aquarium. Over a quarter million people visit the aquarium free of charge each year through free access programs. Other programs include Shelf to Shore, which provides free admission to low-income individuals and families through local libraries, and Community Days each December, when Monterey County residents can visit free of charge.
Free to Learn provided aquarium admission to more than 5,000 children and adults from Monterey County, Santa Cruz County, Santa Clara County and beyond last year, said Barbara Meister, public affairs director for the aquarium. The visits were sponsored by the aquarium in collaboration with 94 different social service organizations.
In addition, thanks to a partnership between the aquarium and Monterey-Salinas Transit (MST), more than 500 of those visitors received free transportation from southern Monterey County and East Salinas in 2012. This year, approximately 2,400 people are expected to benefit from MST’s complimentary service.
“We want to make an aquarium visit possible for those who cannot otherwise afford to purchase a ticket,” Meister said. “We know that connecting people with Monterey Bay and with ocean animals helps inspire them to do more to protect ocean life. That’s at the heart of our mission.”
At the same time, an aquarium visit can be a rich resource that helps other nonprofit groups fulfill the goals of their programs for low-income or at-risk members of the community.
One example: PAPÁS, Supporting Father Involvement (S.F.I.) has partnered with Free to Learn for the last two years to bring nearly 200 fathers and their children to the aquarium. These visits have advanced the PAPÁS mission to promote positive father-child relationships and to increase fathers’ participation in their families and communities.
“The fathers we brought were clearly inspired by seeing so many other families at the aquarium,” said PAPÁS Project Director Deutron Kebebew. “That reinforced their own commitment to take a more active role in their children’s lives.”
The “Secret Lives of Seahorses” special exhibition held particular meaning for the fathers, as it showcased the unique breeding habits of sea horses – species in which the males become pregnant and give birth. The weedy sea dragons on exhibit were pregnant at the time of the PAPÁS visit. This exhibit reinforced the PAPÁS message of positively redefining how fathers are viewed by society, and recognizing fathers as equally important as mothers in building strong families.
“The PAPÁS fathers felt a personal connection to the seahorses,” said Kebebew. “They became more confident by seeing the importance of fatherhood being emulated by the seahorses.”
Other groups have also benefited from free admission to the aquarium through the Free to Learn program, including veterans, disabled people, and college students from organizations including Veterans Transition Center, Imagine Supported Living Services and Upward Bound.
Free to Learn sponsored visits are available throughout the year to qualified California nonprofit organizations. To learn more, contact Barbara Meister at 831-648-4978.
The mission of the Monterey Bay Aquarium is to inspire conservation of the oceans.
Interested in covering an upcoming Free to Learn visit? The following organizations will be bringing groups to the aquarium in the near future:
Saturday, April 6
• Peacock Acres (Salinas); contact Tyler Steer, email@example.com; 831-754-3635; Cell: 831-920-7924
• Pajaro Valley Women’s Center (Watsonville); contact Annette Melendrez, Annette@pvshelter.org; 831-728-5649
Sunday, April 7
• Kinship Center (Salinas & Seaside); contact Jennifer Acevedo, firstname.lastname@example.org; 831-443-0662 x15
Sunday, April 28
• Iglesia San Teodoro Centro Pastoral (Chualar); contact Sister Pauline Thomas, email@example.com; 831-675-2100