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August 17, 2010

Press Release: Martinsville Bulletin

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

By ELIZA WINSTON - Bulletin Staff Writer

A group of local residents in their 20s, 30s and 40s is working to support the Virginia Museum of Natural History while providing social opportunities for young professionals.

The Young Friends of the Virginia Museum of Natural History (VMNH) is designed to raise awareness about the museum among young professionals while providing a place for networking and socializing, said VMNH Director of Development Debbie Lewis.

"I am pleased that in the two years since the Young Friends of VMNH was established, we have been able to provide a unique social venue for the young professionals of our community as well as showcase this extraordinary institution," said Lewis. "This energetic group of individuals recognize the tremendous value of a museum membership and are working to develop a greater awareness of the VMNH throughout the community."?

By getting young people involved at VMNH, museum officials hope to attract and retain new members. Lewis said the museum has gained about 40 memberships through Young Friends, both family and individual memberships. The group's events draw more people, sometimes as many as 100, she said.

"Being a part of Young Friends is one way to support the museum and the many educational opportunities it provides our community," said member Melany Stowe, who is career development coordinator for Henry County Schools.

Many of the group's events are held in the museum, and participants can explore the museum's exhibits while socializing.

"As an educator and parent, my initial interest in the museum was for the benefit of local children. However, I have never left the museum without learning something," Stowe said.

Lewis said creating a group for young professionals was often discussed, and two years ago members of the VMNH foundation board got together to plan the first event, which was held Aug. 20, 2008. Activities have been held ever since.

Other than museum membership fees, there is not a separate cost to belong to the group.

"Young Friends is an example that there are a lot of young people in town who are trying to do good things in the community," said member Shane Painter, an attorney.

Those who are members help promote and support VMNH, and there are also events that reach out to the community, including one in which children from the Boys and Girls Clubs were invited to a cookout and take part in a scavenger hunt at VMNH with Young Friends members. In addition to supporting the museum, Young Friends provides "a good networking opportunity both professionally and socially," Painter said.

The most recent Young Friends event was a canoe trip on the Smith River. The trip attracted members and nonmembers, some of whom traveled from out of town to attend, Lewis said.

Previous Young Friends events have included parties with food, drinks and themes such as a Mardi Gras dinner and a tacky sweater Christmas party.

The next Young Friends event, called "Endless Summer," will be open to local educators free of charge, said Lewis. When they meet at the museum from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sept. 23, the educators will be able to socialize, eat and listen to music, all while discovering the educational resources available at the museum, she said.

Young Friends events typically carry admission costs, but local businesses are providing sponsorships to allow educators to attend "Endless Summer" for free.

"I am very excited and proud to be a member of a group that recognizes the daily efforts of our local teachers and is willing to sponsor an event just for them," Stowe said.

Young professionals in the community who want to attend Young Friends events or get involved in the organization can find out more information on the museum's website, www.vmnh.net; through the group's Facebook page, which is listed publicly; or by e-mailing YoungFriendsVMNH@gmail.com.

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