During a 2005 community meeting in New York’s northernmost borough, The Bronx, attendees recognized a void. “We knew there weren’t a lot of resources for kids, especially Pre-K to three years of age,” recalls Hope Harley – who redefined her retirement to spearhead the creation of the Bronx Children’s Museum.
Now President of the Museum’s Board of Directors, Harley was recently honored with an AARP Purpose Prize(R), the only national award that celebrates people 50-plus who are using their knowledge and life experience to solve tough social problems.
Help for Kids
The Museum now provides programs for children up to nine years of age, but it was a long climb.
“We wanted the children of The Bronx to have something of their own.”
Harley, and a few others spent the following 10 years taking up the mantle of establishing a space and programming where local youth could see themselves. “We wanted the children of The Bronx to have something of their own,” Harley points out. “I’m hoping that the kids that visit our museum will be impacted like I was as a child visiting other museums…I want them to be proud of where they live; a lot of exhibits will reflect where they live. They deserve to grow in confidence.”
A History of Service
Harley’s community service started well before the conception of the Bronx Children’s Museum. Harley retired from Verizon in 2007 after spending 28 years in a variety of positions, ultimately becoming their Director of External Affairs and leading efforts on philanthropy.
“I knew that there were other things I wanted to do and I didn’t want to wait.”
“Retirement is what you work for, especially if the work that you’re doing is not your fantasy. I knew that there were other things I wanted to do and I didn’t want to wait. Retirement gave me the opportunity to do other things,” Harley observes. A year into retirement (and trying acting lessons), she craved deeper ties to the community and began working for the US Census Bureau in 2010. She would later “re-retire” – but never stopped her volunteer work at the Bronx Children’s Museum, work that would lead to her Purpose Prize.
According to AARP’s Jennifer Cisneros, who works on outreach and promotes outreach to raise awareness for the Prize, “The AARP Purpose Prize(c) is helping to stamp out ageist beliefs…recognizing people 50 or older who are using years of knowledge and experience they have accumulated over their lifetime and applying it to solve tough societal issues. They are innovators, disrupters, and an inspiration to others!”
How did it feel to receive this honor? “It was shocking!” Harley exclaims. “No one thought we had a chance. I believe that we make an impact, but I didn’t anticipate winning. The $50,000 award had a huge impact on us, especially last year. It really gave the museum national exposure and we could barely buy local exposure! It’s truly invaluable.”
“Things will change when you grow old. But change is good and everybody should allow themselves the chance to grow (older). Don’t be afraid.”
Harley’s work is truly a testament of what can happen when you dare to dream and make space for yourself. “Things will change when you grow old,” Harley notes. “But change is good and everybody should allow themselves the chance to grow (older). Don’t be afraid.”
Photo credit – Harold Todman