Thursday May 26th, 2016 6:53AM

INK announces plan to grow

By Marc Eggers Anchor / Reporter
GAINESVILLE - A place where imagination, creativity and interaction replace video games and text messaging...and the children are having fun - lots of it.

Sound like a scene from an old black-and-white movie? Actually it happens nearly 70,000 times a year at INK, Interactive Neighborhood for Kids.

Started in August of 2002, the vision of founder Sheri Hooper has mushroomed. And on Tuesday, Hooper, who now goes by the title of Volunteer Executive Director, told members of the Gainesville Kiwanis Club at their weekly meeting that they were making plans to move into a new 50,000-square-foot facility near I-985 and Exit 8, Friendship Road.

Part of the plan includes a fund-raising effort of $4.2 million dollars to help build a new state-of-the-art children's museum.

Hooper says the 501(c)(3) non-profit agency, INK, began as a vision through an identified need to create a learning environment for children that takes place out of the normal classroom setting.

INK is a children's museum that encourages children of all ages to develop their full potential through exciting hands-on learning. A miniature version of a "grownup" community, INK offers children a safe place to freely explore, role-play and experience the world around them. It infuses a love for learning that can last a lifetime and fuels the potential of each child to reach his or her ultimate potential.

"INK strives, through interactive exhibits, to create a unique environment in which children of all ages, abilities and experiences can feel free to imagine, create and explore beyond their dreams," said Hooper.

INK's first 5,000-square-foot home opened in August 2002 in the former Westminster Presbyterian Church building on Academy Street just off the downtown Gainesville square.

Word quickly spread, and schools and organizations began to come and bring their children to utilize the unique learning environment INK provided.

In June 2006 INK moved into its current location at the Warren Featherbone Communiversity Building in Gainesville. This move tripled INK's space, and attendance quickly grew as the reach of INK spread beyond Gainesville to families and schools all over Northeast Georgia.

Over the past eight years, and through the support of many businesses and individuals within the community, INK has added even more learning opportunities for children. To help INK sustain its operations and meet the needs of its visitors, they added more birthday party areas, a gift shop and a paint-your-own pottery studio. INK is currently self-sustaining in daily operations, but the number of visitors continues to climb. In fact, in 2013 INK served nearly 70,000 visitors, a number more than three times the 2006 total.

"The demand for effective learning opportunities for our children continues to increase as evidenced by our growing number of visitors," says Hooper. "We want to be prepared to meet that demand for the next generation of children, which is why we're launching this capital campaign to build a larger facility that can better meet the needs for children visiting our facility."

Through the generosity of an anonymous donor, INK has an opportunity to build its new, state-of-the-art facility in South Hall County, off Exit 8 on I-985. This donation came with the stipulation that INK must raise $2 million and begin construction by summer of 2015.

"What a tremendous opportunity that has been given to North Georgia," adds Jay Jacobs, current Kiwanis Club of Gainesville president, and president & CEO of Jacobs Media Corporation. "The chance to build a facility specifically tailored to the needs of a children's museum from the ground up is wonderful. I feel confident our community will meet the $2 million challenge. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity to help our children, inspire dreams, foster a love for learning and ensure a brighter future for everyone."

Through donations, grants, corporate business and community support, the new 50,000-square-foot building will offer more learning opportunities for a wider variety of age groups. The adaptable space will also allow for additional exhibits and the ability to update and enhance existing exhibits to ensure an expanded arena of imagination for years to come. In addition, the creation of a larger children's museum will attract significantly more people through quality programming, exhibits and events. INK will not only provide an educational and cultural boost to the community, but will also bring economic benefit to Hall County and surrounding areas.

"I never would have thought when we first opened our 5,000-square-foot neighborhood that we would grow as we have," says Hooper. "But you see, this is exactly the power of a dream and exactly what INK is all about. Inspiring and empowering our children to follow their dreams, as big as they may be, because one day they may exceed all expectations, touch more lives than ever imagined and have the power to change the future of our world forever."

"The potential of this project is as limitless as the potential of each child that walks through the doors of our facility," concludes Hooper. "I am proud to be a part of building the foundation of our children's education and creating a world of endless possibilities."

To learn more about INK and the campaign, click here or call 770-536-1900.
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