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A few months ago we decided not to throw our kids a birthday party. I know, how horrible. Instead we took a week-long vacation in the Berkshires. I get that sounds all pretentious but I swear we are average folks. I smuggle my peanut butter jelly sandwiches into places just like every other mom. But we decided for the cost of a two hour party we could give our kids some really fun experiences they will always remember.

We visited a lot of great places and enjoyed trips to several museums where we found science, art and history exhibits. We even saw a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle exhibit which made me and hubby feel a little old. Not only do we remember the first time we watched the original movie (which was playing on a continuous loop), but we remember playing a Nintendo game unit like the one now old enough to be on display as a “classic.”

I digress.

One of our favorite stops was the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. My kids loved making art in the art studio, reading and relaxing in the library and seeing art work from their favorite authors on display.

Here is what we enjoyed!


The art studio is a large sunlit room bursting with creativity. The resident artists select a craft project each day to share with visitors to the studio. All the materials and instruction are free. There are convenient drying wracks just outside the studio entrance where you can leave your creations while you tour the rest of the building. If you have kids of different ages and stages there are fun hands on play stations for your little ones to enjoy.

The galleries offer a look at original art work created by Eric Carle and other renowned picture book artists. Our favorite by far was the Brown Bear 50th Anniversary exhibit. We could see different versions of the way the animals were drawn. We immediately found the reading area which provided books and comfy brown bear cushions to cozy up to while reading. There are a variety of ways kids can interact with the art and games to help them talk about what they see. Each of the gallery rooms is minimal with plenty of room to navigate a stroller or wheel chair through. But no pictures are allowed for this exhibit.


The library was the big hit for my kids. Not only did they have access to kids’ books, but they were obsessed with the giant stuffed versions of the book characters they love. Brown Bear was carried around by just about every kid that came in. There are also lots of learning toys like latch puzzles, magnet puzzles and coloring pages. Hubby and I enjoyed getting to sit down and relax a bit while our kids had a safe place to roam. There are kids story times and other events taking place so be sure to check the schedule before you travel!

The Auditorium offers concerts and educational films. We arrived between movie viewings so we did not get to check out the auditorium. But you can check online to see what film or concert is being offered on the day you visit.

The Bookshop is filled with a lot of fun games, stuffed animals and unique gift ideas. We found some great post cards featuring art from our favorite Eric Carle books. I bought extras to frame when we return home.


Everything about this museum is designed with families in mind. You can request extra diapering supplies from the front desk, borrow a stroller or wheel chair and the coat room has individual lockers with a key to stash your diaper bag and extra stuff you don’t want to carry. There are activity kits to borrow to help your kids have a more interactive experience (I didn’t see those until we were on our way out). The museum admission price is also family friendly $22.50 covers a family of two adults and two kids.

Since our visit was in November it was a little too chilly to check out the art sprinkled along the walking trails and museum grounds. You can also find picnic tables outside to enjoy that homemade peanut butter sandwich right out in the open.  Or you can stay inside and enjoy a non-smuggled lunch right in The Carle Café where they offer free coffee and organic/natural vending machine fare.

The museum is located in Amherst, MA which is approximately 2 hours from where we are in Ulster County. This is a great place to take your young art lover and little reader. It is a perfect day trip for families and especially accommodating for every age group. Older kids can read and learn details about the art exhibits, create art and there is plenty to keep their younger siblings busy and engaged.

The Whatever Mom is a full-time wife and twin mama living on coffee and wine. She enjoys the pure rush of cleaning the BIG potty between loads of laundry. It is her dream that moms everywhere accept and embrace the Whatever Mom philosophy which can be found here. You can also find her musings and popular shares on Facebook and Twitter. Stay up to date with her creative ideas and outings on Pinterest. 

Graphic Novels

Illustration credit to Robert Geronimo as published in Little Maia’s Coral City Adventure.

Does your kid get excited about comic books? My girls fell in love with comic books at age three. Mr. Whatever Mom is a self-professed comic book “geek.” Other than the most recognizable superheroes like Superman, Wonder Woman and Spider-Man, I really don’t know much about comics. I enjoy them as an art form, but I never developed a passion for comic books like my husband’s. For him, sharing that passion with his kids is really something special.

My girls are almost five now, so we are often hunting for age appropriate (non-violent, appropriately-dressed females) comic books. Enter Little Maia. We first met Maia and her author Robert Geronimo at the New York City Comic Convention a few short weeks ago. Among all the big marketing booths and retail vendors sat Robert and his team from Ascalon Press with these amazing books about Little Maia.

Maia is a little girl who takes on big adventures. In her first adventure “Little Maia and the Coral City” she is swallowed by a large sea monster and finds Coral City, a world below the sea. Then she takes an adventure on the Lunar Express in “Little Maia and the Lunar Express” and travels through space. (Coincidentally the sea and outer space just happen to be two of our favorite topics).

Graphic novels Robert Gernoimo

Little Maia Adventure Books

Both books are so beautifully illustrated you don’t even need words to tell the story. This is perfect since these are picture books without words.  Kids get to make up the dialogue and narrate the action at the turn of every page. Maia is a brave little problem solver who finds her own way home. She doesn’t have parents telling her what to do or saving her from her perils. She is all on her own. The fact that she isn’t a superhero with mysterious super powers and a secret identity makes her relatable for any kid, not just for girls.

Little Maia and The Coral City

Illustration credit Robert Geronimo

Kids take on the role of storyteller through these books and can really become part of the adventure. It is amazing to hear my kids create inner monologue for Maia, give her the power to be brave and make up conversations between characters. They never tell the story the same way. They embellish it more and more each time.

Little Maia and The Lunar Express

Illustration credit Robert Geronimo

Parents can get in on the story by asking questions that help their child delve deeper into the characters and the storyline. “How do you think Maia feels when the thunder hits?” “What do you think she is saying to those little aliens?” “What would you do if _____?” These graphic novels have become an opportunity for my kids to connect with their own ideas of bravery and at times their own emotions. It’s amazing to see how much learning is happening while reading a comic book!

As a mom I feel Maia is a wonderful portrayal of a young heroine showing that even girls take on monsters and travel through space. As a newly-minted comic fan I really enjoy the intricate details of the illustrations. The pictures give the story a flow even nonreaders can follow. These are great for preschoolers, early readers and beyond!

What comic books are your kids reading?

You can find Little Maia and the Coral City and Little Maia and the Lunar Express on Amazon. Great gifts for kids!

The Whatever Mom is a full time wife and twin mama living on coffee and wine. She enjoys the pure rush of cleaning the BIG potty between loads of laundry. It is her dream that moms everywhere accept and embrace the Whatever Mom philosophy which can be found here.

Reader Question

So excited to get a reader question! “Where do you find inspiration for your kid’s activities? Do you homeschool?”

To answer, no I do not officially homeschool. We do find a lot of enriching and educational activities to do in our home (and beyond). I began introducing these types of activities to my girls as a way to fill our day. They are almost five now and enjoy guiding the planning process. They definitely have some firm opinions on how things should go around here. I think kids are naturally curious, so I like to find things to get curious about with them.

Where do I find my inspiration? I think Pinterest has a lot to offer.  However, I don’t always have time to pin projects and then shop for supplies. (I usually forget about all those pins once I log out). I sometimes get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of choices. I often find inspiration for projects at our library, or in books we already have at home. I try to notice what my kids like about each book we read, which ones are they gravitating toward and what are some of the themes they enjoy. Then I try to connect those themes with another activity like a craft, or a cooking project, an experiment or drawing from imagination.

Grandpa and Me Pizza

Around the time the girls were two and a half they discovered a book at the library about making pizza with grandpa. I thought, “why not make our own?!” That is how our Friday night pizza tradition began! I have such warm memories of being in the kitchen with my mother, I thought this would be a great way for us to connect and make memories too. (It is also a great way to sneak in some extra veggies under the radar. The secret is in the sauce!). Now our pizza nights include a family movie night, or girls spa night when hubby is working late. Who knew one little book could inspire so much!?

So, that’s my secret formula for finding our activities. My kids interests are my inspiration! I add in a touch of creativity and sometimes something more structured from Pinterest. But, most of all I am inspired by fun!

Where do you find inspiration for fun crafts and activities to do with the kids?

The Whatever Mom is a full time wife and twin mama living on coffee and wine. She enjoys the pure rush of cleaning the potty between loads of laundry. It is her dream that moms everywhere accept and embrace the Whatever Mom philosophy which can be found here.

Meet Carole Wolf. A woman with a passion for her job. Well connected in her community. And she has an extensive knowledge of how the arts can benefit us all.


But is that enough to stave off firings, cutbacks and fewer fundraising dollars?


Apparently not.


Carole is the successful executive director of the Mill Street Loft, an arts group in Poughkeepsie. They are managing their budget month to month. They track everything very carefully. “Now, more than ever we are looking at where we have spent our money and how it is working,” she emphasizes.  


But they, like many groups I have spoken to, had to cut staff positions and limit staff hours. (With hopes to restore them, she says quickly). She knows that unless their current revenues pay for the costs they won’t be in business too long.


Not for profit groups have to make a “profit” to survive and grow

Sometimes we forget, not for profit businesses have to run on a profit model. For these community groups, the profitable dollars go into raising salaries, running new programs and expansion, rather then towards dividends or higher returns for the owner. But, like all of us in business, we must make money to stay in business.


When asked how fundraising is going, Carole talks about their recent Friends of the Arts Awards. Over 300 people showed up and they raised about $75,000. (But she quickly assured me that it was not all profit.) The event was not only about money but about building new audiences, says Carole: “Acknowledging people in our community. Building new partnerships. Creating visibility in the community to other arts groups, cultural organizations and human service agencies.”


Carole’s instincts are sharp. That’s what has allowed her organization to grow in this community, but again I ask, “Is that enough in this new environment?”


Database marketing = the difference between success and failure.

I would love a peek at Carole’s database…or her cell phone directory…or where ever she keeps those valuable names, phone numbers and email addresses.


Here’s an insider tip: if you get an email from Carole it may help your bottom line.


How? Carole can help you make your staff more productive by using creative techniques. Does she use this talent? No.


Many of us are too focused on us and getting our message out about how wonderful we are. In my experience, it doesn’t seem to matter whether it is a for profit business or not for profit . We are all making the same mistakes. When, in fact, if we focus on using the new technologies to help others, they in turn will be more likely to help us in the long run.


Using new technology makes the tasks easier…once you learn the secret.

How does it work?


  1. If you have a large contact database (and what exec doesn’t) separate the names into groups: business, community, political etc. You decide the groups based on their needs, how they operate, and their importance to you. The key word in the past sentence is “them” and “they”. This model is not about you, but it’s about them: those key constituents you would like to reach.
  2. Now see what knowledge you process that you can easily offer. To business executives, Carole could email a weekly tip that would enhance the creativity of their staff at their next staff meeting. I would subscribe to her email.
  3. Now she needs to include a promotion for her email newsletter on her website to encourage sign-ups. She should promote it…promote it …and promote it again.  These tips should be archived on her website so that we can access the tips we may have missed. And the trick here is that businesses should have to sign up with a name and email address to gain access. (For Carole, email contacts = new business.)
  4. Each newsletter has a pitch. This is key to this project working. I bet you think she should ask for money. Maybe or maybe not. How about this: “If my creativity tips are working for you, think how much more creative you could be if you attended one of our class series.” Link them back to your website for the class schedule.


Use this time to think about what you offer and how you can use the new technology to promote your skills more effectively.


Want another fundraising tip? If your organization works with kids in your community, we have just created a new fundraising program that doesn’t cost you any money or staff time and helps kid’s creativity at the same time. Visit 

The Undercover Kids and  become a Community Partner.



Mill Street Loft

45 Pershing Ave

Poughkeepsie, NY 12601

The Mill Street Loft

According to the Nadia Allen, the executive director of the Orange County Mental Health Association, some of their supporters have not been able give at the same level as years before. As an association they recognize that things must change. But how?


This year there will be no raises for the staff, says Nadia. This will help them offset any decreases for this year. She feels they have a very unique corner of the market; they don’t offer direct services but provide support programs through the county, like their rape crisis hotline.


“We have always been very visible,” says Nadia. “And we are always at the table when mental health related issues are discussed.”


Like many high energy, dedicated executives, Nadia is involved in a wide range of professional groups including trade associations and the chamber. She feels her community involvement makes it easier to obtain grants. That is why she works hard during the day and then spends many evenings attending group functions.


When asked about the Mental Health Association’s involvement with the web and social marketing, the answer is ‘not much.’ She will be attending an association conference, where they will discuss effective use of the web for not-for-profits.


Like many associations, the Mental Health Association uses the web’s functionality to keep in touch with current members…usually during their fund drives. When asked if  the community uses their site, she proudly says that they have a lot of information on their site that many access.


Sometimes I wonder, if as the web expands our world and our access to information, we should try harder to narrow our focus. For example, if you have a membership list, divide the list into categories: professional groups who donate and individuals, or those in a specific region. Then develop messages for those unique groups and do it with some regularity….once or twice a month. And it is important to provide information that is useful to the reader…rather than focusing on your organization.


With the new ways we communication, it is time to rethink your marketing plan (that assumes you have one) and change how you “speak” to people.


If you are looking for a unique fundraising idea that does not involve attending another dinner or fundraising event visit and signup to be a Community Partner. You make money will providing kids with a great outlet for their imagination.


Nadia Allen, executive director
Mental Health Association of Orange County
20 Walker St
Goshen, NY 10924

Although Christopher Fortune is the new executive director for the Orange County Association for the Help of Retarded Citizens (AHRC), he brings a long history of working in the world of not-for-profits.

He is introducing new ventures that he hopes will bring a new audience to AHRC. This spring they hosted their first jazz concert and hope to conduct another this fall. Chris wants to use these events to attract people who may have never heard of his association.


With over 700 staff and a multi-million dollar budget, AHRC offers a broad array of services, from infant assessments to adult community residences. But Chris feels the agency is not as well known as other agencies in the county.


“Soon we will introduce a rebranding of our association,” says Chris. “The word retarded is out of vogue. We want something that is easily recognized.” Once they develop this new look for the association they will begin marketing the agency more heavily.


In terms of how the downturn economy is affecting the agency, Chris is concerned with New York State’s lack of support and advocacy for those with disabilities. “Our funding base has eroded,” say Chris, “causing us to have to be extremely conservative in how we use our money.


“Job security and maintaining services are continuing. But there will be no raises this year,” says Chris. The agency will continue health benefits are the same level, but will look at variations on co-pays and wellness programs.


How is this forward looking executive using social networking? The agency has introduced a new, easy-to-use website. And they will introduce an online planned giving and donation program. But Chris is concerned about updating the agency’s technology and educating staff on how to use the new web-based tools. “We have to start by teaching staff to use their internal user name and password,” says Chris to make his point about how far they have to go.


AHRC’s schools, which are about 1/3 of the agency’s programs, continue to raise money for add-on programs the old fashioned way – selling chocolate bars and other small items.


If you are looking for a unique fundraising idea that does not involve making selling chocolate, visit and signup to be a Community Partner. Introduce your kids, and those kids of others you work with, to a new exciting mystery series and earn money too.


Christopher Fortune, executive director

Orange County Association for the Help of Retarded Citizens

249 Broadway

Newburgh, NY 12550


We are all hearing that the economy is in a slump. I was curious how community organizations are handling the downturn. After all, they provide valuable services. Read this community group’s story and then see the tips I offer that should increase revenue.

I was a big sister for six years, so I decided to give Big Brothers Big Sisters exec Nancy Kosloski a call and get her take on fundraising and the economy. Nancy has been the executive director for many years, and she says this is the worst downturn she has experienced. Many of her staff has begun to work a four-day week to control payroll costs.

“Previous year’s fundraising dollars moved us ahead and allowed us to introduce new programs,” says Nancy. “Now our fundraisers fill in some of the financial holes we are experiencing.”


Recently they held their annual bowl-a-thon which has always been wildly successful. The bowling event raised $31,000 this year. Last year’s take was $36,000. “But we had 350 people bowl – which I considered great.” Nancy made sure to congratulate the staff on the huge turnout. So what went wrong? Apparently, corporate donations were down. “We have a golf event planned,” continues Nancy. “This year the golf outing will fill in the gaps that the bowling event didn’t earn.”


The organization plans to do more events, but it is touch and go because they have fewer staff who are working fewer hours. “This year we will have our motorcycle ride fundraiser with V Force Customs coordinating the event. We have to look at other events but will try not to repeat events that other organizations are conducting.


What are the major challenges Big Brothers Big Sisters are experiencing and how are they being addressed?

One major challenge for this community group has been the loss of their director of resource development – a key person. According to Nancy, another group offered her more money than Big Brothers and Big Sisters could afford. Because of their limited funding this year, they could only hire a part time staff member for that position.


“In terms of foundations, the help we usually count on has come through at 50% of last year’s levels. We thank them for what they are doing now and hope as the economy turns the foundation money will be restored, admits Nancy. “Also the challenge of getting grants is greater than ever, and there is more competition for the same dollars.


How are you integrating social networking into your fund development planning?

Nancy tells her story:

“We are just starting to do that. For example, people can donate through our website. Those who participate in the motorcycle ride can sign up online. And people who bowled could form their teams online.


“We are looking to set up a Facebook page for special causes. I don’t know the first thing about Facebook, and it requires additional staff time, which we don’t have. I signed up for my own Facebook page just to see how it works, but I don’t have time for more friends. This social marketing is a steep learning curve for me. “


Based on their limited funds what is the best direction for them?

Community organizations have the greatest difficulty moving out of their comfort zone. They know their programs, their staff and their kids. But do they really understand what others think about their program and what would encourage more people to get more involved?


How many of the current 350 bowlers, who they were really proud of, would become team leaders next year? How do they keep in touch with them? Did they collect email addresses? How often do they touch base and with what materials?


Create a blog (or short articles that can be emailed) that is sponsored by local bowling allies. Have the ally manager write about the best bowling techniques? If I only bowl once a year, I would be lucky to break 90 points. But if you send me coupons from local bowling lanes, and give me the needed tips, I may begin to enjoy the sport and get more involved with Nancy’s group.


If bowling is an annual event, have bowling articles on the website and encourage me to sign up for your newsletter or your email blast that offers discounts and information. Encourage me to sign up my friends. Become a bowling resource.


I know this is counter intuitive. Why should I promote bowling when our goal is to offer mentoring programs for kids? First, you need to walk in your bowlers’ shoes and second, you may get more new mentors than you realize.


So collect emails (they are very valuable) and use them effectively so people who participate in your events become engaged based on THEIR interests.


If you are seeking a fundraising  raising idea that doesn’t cost you any money or staff time, visit The Undercover Kids and sign up to become a Community Partner.



Big Brothers Big Sisters of Orange County

253 South Williams Street

Newburgh, NY12550


Big Brothers Big Sisters

I was involved in fundraising at the temple that my children attended. It was a lot of work but great fun working with the other women in the group. We did fashion shows, pot luck suppers and dinner dances.

But I will never forget one spring, much like the one we are having now, that I decided our group was going to sponsor a fashion show with a twist. Women would model fashions they designed and sewed.  I held sewing sessions at my home, and we had a blast. So that part worked great.


The food was going to be simple – some type of pasta, plus salad and a great chocolate dessert. Some of us made large pans of pasta at home and brought them to the temple to be warmed in the large commercial ovens the temple had.


The tables were set. Everything looked beautiful with colorful spring flowers. Out came the rolls and salad. No problem. Now it was time for the heaping plates of pasta. But wait…some of the pasta was cold. Why? It turned out the some of the oven burners didn’t work, so the top layers warmed but the bottom was still cold.


Here we are with 150 women waiting for their meal. You know the old saying, “When the going gets tough, the tough gets going.” My girl friends said they knew we were in trouble when I rolled up my sleeves and washed my hands. And they definitely thought I had lost my mind when I pushed my hands down to the bottom of the first pasta pan, which was cold, and mixed it with the hot pasta on top. I figured mixing hot and cold pasta together would produce something warm and I was right. It saved the day but it is not something I want to experience again.


If you are looking for a unique fundraising idea that does not involve making pasta or sponsoring a fashion show visit and signup to be a Community Partner.

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