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Submitted by Maria Newhouse
In October 2019 Air Zoo staff members Christy Kincaid, collections and exhibits coordinator, Mary Lawrence, director of talent management and finance, and Maria Newhouse, development associate, will travel to Grand Rapids, Michigan to give two presentations at the 2019 Association of Midwest Museums and Michigan Museums Association Joint Conference. Ms. Kincaid and Ms. Newhouse will be presenting on the Air Zoo’s innovative Infant-At-Work program, while Ms. Lawrence and Ms. Newhouse will present on the Air Zoo’s new Diversity and Inclusion training program.
Both programs are part of wider, strategic initiatives at the Air Zoo to continue to be an open and welcoming place to all visitors, volunteers and staff. Through the Infant-At-Work program, which was launched in 2018, full-time staff can bring their newborns to work with them. While there are restrictions in place to ensure workplace safety and the best interests of the children, the Air Zoo is committed to making this an option for as many working parents as possible, to ease the back-to-work transition so many new parents face.
“It was a really amazing opportunity,” shared Maria Newhouse. Her son, Jude, was the first infant to participate in the program in 2018 and joined her at work daily for over six months. “Having him with me just made the transition back so much less stressful,” she added. “While it was a little tricky navigating work and a baby, we got into a routine and I wouldn’t have it any other way!”
Other staff, who initially voiced concern about the program, noted that having a baby on staff was surprisingly comforting and not at all disruptive to the day-to-day activities of a busy organization. While Jude has transitioned out of the Air Zoo, Christy Kincaid’s daughter, Lyla, now joins her mom at work several days a week. “It makes me feel good to have her around with me,” Christy shared. “I appreciate the fact that the Air Zoo values me both as an employee and a mom.”
In addition to this program, which Kincaid and Newhouse will present on, the Air Zoo will share information on its new diversity and inclusion training program with those assembled for the joint conference. Through this program, which was initially funded by a mini-grant through the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo, on behalf of the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, staff and volunteers have the opportunity to learn about topics like racism, ableism, poverty and LGBTQ inclusion as it applies to providing excellent customer service to guests and staff alike.
The initial round of funding enabled the Air Zoo to pilot the training program with a small group of managers and staff, before rolling it out to the entire organization at the end of 2018. Now fully funded by a larger grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, training will continue throughout 2019 with next steps to be determined by an internal committee of staff and volunteers in 2020. “We don’t have it all figured out yet,” shared Mary Lawrence, “but we knew we couldn’t wait until we figured it all out to start either of these programs. The work is just too important.”
The Air Zoo will be joined by Veronica Campbell, interim director of the Port Huron Museum, for the presentation on Infant-At-Work Programs. Area organizations that have collaborated on the diversity and inclusion program include: the Kalamazoo Public Library, the YWCA Kalamazoo, OutFront Kalamazoo, the Disability Network of Southwest Michigan, Griffin Place, ERRACE and Access of West Michigan.