New Partnership between Southeast Missouri Network Against Sexual Violence (SEMO-NASV) and the Discovery Playhouse!
Leasa Stone guides her grandchildren through the new Green Bear Project exhibit at the Discovery Playhouse – A Children’s Museum in downtown Cape Girardeau, MO. She takes a step back and smiles, her vision has finally come to life. For her, so much good has come from tragedy.
Stone founded the Green Bear Project back in 2001 in memory of Baby Ty, a little boy who died as a result of abuse. The project’s primary mission is to develop child abuse prevention programs to take into local schools and communities to educate children, parents, teachers, other professionals, and community members. For over 20 years, Stone has been doing just that.
The current program educates children that are in pre-kindergarten up through 8th grade. Green Bear’s presentations are developmentally appropriate- younger children receive messages about personal body safety and abduction prevention using a puppet show, storybooks, and fun books (the Green Bear program); older children are given fun workbooks with games and prizes for proving their knowledge on personal body safety, internet dangers, and positive peer relationships (S.A.F.E. Guide to Growing Up and the S.A.F.E. Guide to Healthy Relationships). The project also includes training for parents and concerned citizens, teaching those adults about child abuse prevention, protecting children from abuse, online dangers, and more. Lastly, The Green Bear Project offers A Guide for Mandated Reporters – Recognizing and Reporting Child Abuse for Missouri’s Mandated Reporters.
The Green Bear Project is sponsored and funded by Southeast Missouri Network Against Sexual Violence (SEMO-NASV). SEMO-NASV’s Executive Director, Kendra Eads, knows how important abuse prevention education is to the public. “Statistically, 1 in 10 children will be abused before they turn 18. We have over 57,000 children in southeast Missouri, so based on those statistics over 5,700 children are at risk,” says Eads. Early education is key, she went on- “Starting early in life we give children safety tips on so many things- wearing seatbelts, what to do in a fire- we need to be giving messages to kids about personal body safety as well.”
Eads and Stone knew how important getting The Green Bear Project content to the community was in preventing abuse. That’s where Christy Mershon stepped in. Mershon currently serves as SEMO-NASV’s Board Vice President and Discovery Playhouse’s Board Secretary. Mershon knew that there was a unique opportunity for collaboration between the two agencies, “The Green Bear program had, traditionally, been an in-school service. This presented quite a challenge when schools were not providing in-person instruction. In addition to creating enhanced online Green Bear content, at NASV we began asking how we could expand beyond the school-based delivery model. I immediately thought of the Discovery Playhouse. Learning in a children’s museum creates endless opportunities for children to learn in ways that blend both formal and informal learning. The Discovery Playhouse was looking for partners to help expand and refresh exhibits and working to align with a new strategic mission focused on equity and inclusion. The time was optimal for collaboration and the creation of an exceptional experience that would be healthy, safe, and built specifically for early learners.” Both organizations have boards composed of PhD level educators, content developers, and staff with delivery and content knowledge, making the partnership even more efficient and effective.
Michael Toeniskoetter, the Executive Director of the Discovery Playhouse, thinks the partnership is a perfect fit, “Partnering with SEMO-NASV's Green Bear Project just made sense, as it fits perfectly with our mission to "create a learning laboratory" for all of the region's families.” Discovery Playhouse Children’s Museum was founded in 2006 with the hope of providing area families access to a fun and educational children’s museum, since the closest options at the time were in Memphis and St. Louis. In early 2019, the staff and Board of Directors of Discovery Playhouse redefined its strategic plan, vision, and mission, with a focus on access, inclusion, and education. Discovery Playhouse offers over 30 hands-on exhibits from imaginative play to purpose driven play. During 2021, museum staff focused on providing access to the local community through a food program, The Playhouse Cupboard, and Museums for All. Partnering with The Green Bear Project helps further the Playhouse’s mission. “My hope for this program is that it can help educate adults and children to better protect themselves,” said Toeniskoetter.
The Green Bear Project will share space in the Southeast Health exhibit at Discovery Playhouse, it will have its own little corner called Green Bear Junction. Founder, Leasa Stone, is excited for the new partnership, “Talking about abuse with children should be as natural as talking to them about looking both ways before crossing the street. Green Bear Junction will allow parents a fun and educational way to start having that conversation. The more we talk about it, the easier it becomes.”
Green Bear Junction opens in April at the Discovery Playhouse. Green Bear is the project’s mascot and guides families through the experience, along with his sister Tiffy Bear. Children of all ages can spend time in the activity corner, where they can draw and color, unscramble words about feelings, learn safety tips through a word search, and even participate in a scavenger hunt. There is also a trivia game children and their families can play, though the team advises you watch the interactive videos before playing. “We really want to emphasize that abuse is never a child’s fault,” says Stone. “I think the puppet show is one of my favorite areas. One of the other topics we cover, that is so important, is who kids can tell if abuse has occurred. They should have several trusted adults they know they can tell. Green Bear always says to keep telling grownups until someone helps. The puppet show has all these characters in the community kids can interact with like a Fire Fighter, School Counselor, or Grandparent; they are fun and effective.” There is something for everyone in Green Bear Junction, as the creators understand that children of all ages can and will interact with the exhibit. The walls of Green Bear Junction also give helpful tips and conversation topics for caregivers to start having personal body safety discussions.
“We are excited about this new partnership. We hope that other Child Advocacy Centers, educational institutions, and Children’s Museums adopt the easily scalable program,” says Mershon, “The “work smarter, not harder” mantra is so crucial in these under-resourced times.” Toeniskoetter agrees, “I would love to see this program grow beyond our facility and market it to other Children's Museums nationwide.”
You can visit Green Bear Junction during regular museum hours, Tuesdays through Thursdays 10 AM to 5 PM, Fridays 10AM to 7PM, Saturdays 9 AM to 7PM, and Sundays 1PM to 6PM. For more information on how to visit Discovery Playhouse, visit https://www.discoveryplayhouse.org/. For more information about the Green Bear Project, visit https://www.greenbearmo.org/.