• Rotary Year: 2019-2020
  • Application Date: 5/25/2019
  • Club Name (Primary): Montgomery County
  • Club Name 2: Christiansburg-Blacksburg
  • Club Name 3: Radford (Noon)
  • Club Name 4: Christiansburg
  • Project Name: Wonder Universe - Sensory Space
  • Project Total Cost: $14,000.00
  • Grant Amount Requested: $7,000.00
  • Describe the Project, its location and its objectives: Wonder Universe, formerly known as the Children’s Museum of Blacksburg, has served more than 47,000 guests since opening at First and Main in Blacksburg in early 2014. In 2019, Wonder Universe will transition to the New River Valley (NRV) Mall to expand the physical space and geographic service area in an effort to better meet the needs of youth and families in Southwest Virginia.

    Wonder Universe will be offering special services to children with autism and those who learn differently, to include a therapeutic Sensory Space (approximately 400 square feet) and the designation as a Certified Autism Center. The Sensory Space will provide families with access to tools and equipment used in therapeutic settings, but which may otherwise be inaccessible to families as they strive to enhance their child’s cognitive, emotional, physical, and social development.

    In April 2018, the federal Center for Disease Control released data regarding the prevalence of autism in the US, suggesting that 1 in 59 children may have an autism spectrum disorder. Furthermore, the Virginia Department of Education (2016) reports that school districts in the NRV serve 2,557 students with disabilities across the 13 disabilities categories. These data underscore the need and opportunity to serve children and families with diverse abilities in the NRV.

    Wonder Universe’s Sensory Space will create a therapeutic environment that enhances the bond between children and their caregivers/therapists, provides opportunities for developing and practicing prevention and crisis de-escalation strategies, and promotes self-care, resilience, and recovery following high-stress situations due to over stimulation. Lastly, the exhibit space aims to support the development of key life skills including gross and fine motor skills, communication skills and verbal development, recognition and regulation of emotions, and will foster a sense of safety and belonging for guests with special needs and their families.

    This exhibit is unique in the region and will meet an important need for children and families with developmental differences in the region.
  • Expected Start Date: 7/1/2019
  • Expected End Date: 5/1/2020
  • Expected Number of Beneficiaries: 5000
  • Describe how the project will benefit the community and/or improve the lives of the less fortunate: The development of Wonder Universe’s Sensory Space provides families with access to a therapeutic play space that promotes inclusion and belonging. For families with a child who learns differently, there are limited resources in the region; a limited multi-sensory space is available at a museum in Roanoke. As a result, many families struggle to find inclusive environments that promote the healthy, safe development of all children in the household. Furthermore, the financial burden of therapeutic interventions and the financial challenges facing many families in the NRV pose additional risk factors for youth diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders. With more than 61% of children birth to age five living in poverty, high-quality, resource-rich play spaces that support the developmental needs of all children and equip parents to support their healthy development are limited. Wonder Universe will provide an important, unique resource, partnering with researchers, faculty, and community organizations to meet the evolving needs of children and families.

    Andy Shih, Autism Speaks senior vice president, states, “We have an unparalleled opportunity to improve our children’s overall health and quality of life by understanding and addressing the factors–including social influences on health–that have the greatest impact on early development.”
    As a humanitarian project, the testimony of Hazel Wines, parent of four-year-old Jacob who was recently diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, speaks to the importance of this collaborative effort (see attached).

    Rotary clubs and their members will be providing resources and equipment for the Sensory Space and volunteer assistance in preparing the space, assembling materials, and installing exhibit components.
  • Expected Total Project Volunteer Hours: 100
  • Describe the Rotarian hands-on activities in the project (i.e. non-financial participation): Rotarians have already provided volunteer time assisting the museum move materials and equipment into storage prior to renovations to the new museum space. Furthermore, the museum’s executive director has visited with each club, presenting information regarding the museum’s growth, services, and details of the proposed partnership with Rotary, securing support for the project from all four participating clubs.

    In addition to the time invested to date by Rotarians to plan and prepare this collaborative project, Rotarians will provide essential volunteer resources to prepare, paint, and install equipment to bring the Sensory Space to fruition. Following the completion of the Sensory Space, Rotarians will be invited to participate in programming that supports special needs families. For example, Wonder Universe anticipates providing sensory-friendly hours at the museum which will require additional volunteer support, as well as special events in partnership with local police departments and holiday activities that youth with special needs may not be able to enjoy otherwise (e.g., a sensory-friendly Easter egg hunt).

    In addition to fellowship for members, these opportunities will promote Rotary’s purpose and mission within the community, and provide Wonder Universe with dedicated volunteers to support the diverse needs of families within the region.
  • Describe the publicity plan to inform the general public that this is a Rotary sponsored project: The Sensory Space will have dedicated signage recognizing the important contribution of Rotary Clubs, to include the Rotary logo and a list of all participating clubs. An exhibit ribbon cutting will be hosted by Wonder Universe, in coordination with all participating clubs, to include a press release and on-site media.

    Each Rotary Club will be provided with suggested information to share via social media and their individual webpages, and Wonder Universe will promote the important partnership with Rotary in all museum publications (i.e., website, donor wall, e-newsletter, social media, etc.). Wonder Universe has received strong public support to date and a partnership with Rotary will be mutually beneficial for all involved.
  • Cooperating Organizations – Please list each cooperating organization, if any: Wonder Universe: A Children’s Museum

    [The Community Foundation of the New River Valley, the Blacksburg Breakfast Lions Club, and Virginia Autism and Behavior Consulting have made substantial financial contributions to the project already, as is shown in the budget section of the proposal. They are not strictly cooperating organizations requiring letters of participation as defined by the District 7570 however.]
  • Letter(s) of Participation: Wonder_Universe_Letter_of_Support_05.24.2019.pdf
  • Project Expenditure Budget – list detail uses of funds for the project, or use the Budget Upload.The overall project budget is $14,000, of which $7,000 is being requested from the Rotary District Foundation. See attached spreadsheet for details.

  • Project Funding Budget – list detail sources of funds for the project, or use the Budget UploadTotal Project Budget = $14,000

    $7,000 – District 7570 Foundation Grant
    $3,000 – Rotary Club of Montgomery County Grant Match
    $3,000 – Rotary Club of Christiansburg-Blacksburg
    $500 – Radford Noon Rotary
    $500 – Rotary Club of Christiansburg


  • Budget Upload: Distr_Grant_bgt_Mont_Co_multiclub_2019.xlsx
  • Primary Contact Name: John Muffo
  • Primary Contact Rotary Position: Rotary Club of Montgomery County
  • Primary Contact Email: muffo@vt.edu
  • Primary Contact Phone: 540-558-8006
  • Financial Contact Name: Jo Lynn Price
  • Financial Contact Rotary Position: Treasurer, Rotary Club of Montgomery County
  • Financial Contact Address: 
    783 Honeysuckle Rd.
    Pipestem, WV 25979
    United States View on Map
  • Financial Contact Email: jjoprice@gmail.com
  • Financial Contact Phone: 540-250-1200
  • Project Authorization Form: Collaborative_Grant_Auth_Letter1.pdf, Collaborative_Grant_Auth_Letter2.pdf
  • Supporting Uploads: Hazel_W._Testimony_05.24.2019.pdf
  • Grant Number1920C-04
  • Grant Award$7,000.00