Photo Credit: Frank Kovalchek

Youth interpret past at Hope Museum

August 23, 2016

The town of Hope is at the end of the road, but its historical museum is the starting point for several young people’s community roles. Youth serve as tour guides at the Hope and Sunrise Historical and Mining Museum.

As Hope’s museum has expanded in size, so have the number and age of its hosts. Nearly 15 summers ago, the museum’s first 15-year-old tour guide started work after Diane Olthuis, the Hope Museum Director, noticed his strong stage presence in the school’s Christmas play. She invited him to assist the adult volunteer museum host. He learned a guide script and the Youth Museum Program was born. It has grown primarily as youth and their families seek out the opportunities guiding provides.

“Most of the children are motivated by the prospect of tip money. They also take great pride in being needed and being an expert on Hope history,” Olthuis said. She has brought on seven helpers this season. In addition to guiding visitors, the youth are extra hands-on-deck for the multi-building museum campus, whether spotting wasp nests or counting museum donations. The professional-looking artifact photographs on the museum’s interpretive signs were taken with help of youth guides.

On a recent Friday afternoon, 9-year-old Brodie Schell readily welcomed museum guests and confidently guided a small group around the museum campus. Schell, who started working at the Hope and Sunrise Museum when he was 7, pointed out clues to the structures’ short- and long-term past.

“See those beams under the porch? That shows you that the building was moved here.” Schell enjoys all aspects of his museum work, particularly “meeting people who share my heritage,” a mix that reflects some of the diversity of Hope visitors: Chippewa, German, Cherokee, and Irish.

Schell spends some of his tip earnings on sustenance for afternoons at the museum, including pie from Tito’s Cafe. Olthuis pays the youth for their work in grounds keeping. She is appreciative of several museum development projects that youth have enabled. A 12-year-old boy wrote the children’s museum scavenger hunt.

Olthuis describes the youth program as a win-win. “The guides become very knowledgeable and proud of Hope history and Hope today,” the museum director said. “Many times, visitors have approached me after a tour to praise the child who led them. More than once, I’ve been told that it was the best tour that they ever had.”

The Hope and Sunrise Historical and Mining Museum has grown under the guidance of a dedicated volunteer board and financial support of Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area Museum Development Grants.

Visitors are welcome every afternoon, 12-4 p.m., from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Admission is free and donations are welcome. Tips for excellent guides are also appreciated.

Schnell encourages visitors to his museum. “Come here to learn about Sunrise and how Hope used to be. It is interesting, and you’ll know more the next time someone asks!”

The KMTA National Heritage Area provides grants for historic preservation and other educational projects that bolster awareness of the area’s scenic, cultural, historic, and recreational resources. For more information, visit www.kmtacorridor.org