HomeSuscribe TodayBack IssuesMembershipCarnegie Museums of PittsburghMedia Kit


Special Delivery

Once a week for 25 years, volunteers from Museum on the Move have brought the wonders of Carnegie Museum of Natural History to kids who, despite some big obstacles, just want to be kids.


Diane Grzybek (above right) says the program is a labor of love for volunteers. PHOTO: Lisa Kyle







Children’s Hospital volunteer Christy Linder lends a hand.






Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh can be a sad place. Often it’s an inspiring place. But for kids in the hospital for a long stay, it can be a boring place. Add volunteers from neighboring Carnegie Museum of Natural History, and once a week it’s also a very busy learning place.

In the ninth floor activity room, a group of kids ages 3 to 9 dressed in colorful pajamas and hospital gowns gather around a table just their size, gluing small puffs of cotton onto paper rabbits. Each child is given a plaster baby bunny and a small paper cup filled with cut raffia to mimic dried grass.

“Do you know what the mother bunny does then?” asks Lenore Adler, program specialist for outreach at Carnegie Museum of Natural History. “She pulls fur from her own body to make the nest soft for her baby bunny.” Impressed by this news, the kids quickly pull from a chunk of cotton to line their cups, making the nest comfortable for their own baby bunnies.

Adler shows a mounted rabbit skeleton to the older kids remaining at the table. “See the extra long legs?” she asks. “See the big teeth? That’s why you never pet a wild rabbit.”

This natural history lesson is one of dozens shared by way of Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s Museum on the Move program, which for 25 years has delivered the resources of the museum to special-needs children. Once a week at Children’s, volunteers share lessons about dinosaurs, Native Americans, backyard birds, fabulous felines, or rocks and minerals.

The programs are structured to be flexible in their complexity depending on the age and interest of the audience—with any given week being different, usually a mix from toddlers to teens. According to Carol Lerberg, a volunteer with the program for 20 years, dinosaurs are the most popular, no matter the age. “The little kids play with the dinosaur toys, and the older kids look at the teeth and fossils.”

A Short Walk, A Big Step
On a spring day in 1982, Carnegie Museum of Natural History educator Diane Grzybek, now chair of the museum’s division of education, made the short walk from the Oakland museum over to Children’s Hospital, a box of materials all about dinosaurs in her arms. It was a simple gesture: take some of what kids love about the museum to children who can’t visit the museum because of illness.

Grzybek gives credit for the idea to Sally Randall, a museum docent who a year earlier had wondered out loud why the museum couldn’t travel outside its own walls to people who could really use a wonderful diversion. Still today, Museum on the Move is a one-of-kind program. “There really is nothing like it in the country,” Grzybek notes.

Today, Museum on the Move visits more than 60 organizations, including acute-care hospitals, elementary schools, camps, Head Start centers, and several women’s shelters. In 2005, volunteers presented some 600 programs to more than 8,500 children.

“ It is a very labor-intensive program,” says Grzybek, who was the first director of the program. “It’s a lot of work for the volunteers, but it’s a labor of love. Once they see kids get involved, the volunteers get hooked.”

A Wednesday morning staple at Children’s, volunteers conduct different presentations simultaneously on three floors. And Children’s keeps asking them back. “It’s interesting
and educational—and a distraction.If kids can’t make it to the activity room, volunteers go to their bedside,” says Denise Esposto, manager of the Child Life department at the hospital. She’s responsible for the activities that address the emotional and social needs of their patients.

“ The program works on a compassionate, human level,” says Adler, who joined Museum on the Move in 1997. Like Gryzbek before her, she is the program’s only full-time paid staff member. Still, Adler points out that a lot has changed over the past 25 years.

Eleven volunteers now round out the program. The museum gets to store materials at Children’s Hospital for its weekly presentations. And Museum on the Move staff now even get to use a van for their special brand of special deliveries.

Back | Top