Skip to content
 

AARP Purpose Prize Winner Hope Harley Talks About Her Purpose

The cofounder and President of the Board of the Bronx Children’s Museum discusses her passion and determination

Hope Harley

AARP

Mike Ellison:

The Bronx is home to about a quarter million children under nine years old, mostly Black and Brown. And not too long ago, they were the only borough in New York City without a children’s museum -- a place where kids can learn about the world around them in an interactive way, where learning is done by playing. 

 

In 2005, however, a meeting with neighborhood officials created the Genesis of what is now the Bronx Children's Museum. Starting off by turning a school bus into a mobile museum, the Bronx Children’s Museum building is currently under construction, opening its permanent space hopefully in the fall this year.

 

Hope Harley, 69, co-founded the project and serves as its Board President. Her involvement has been helping to make the Bronx Children’s Museum a reality. And for her efforts in giving back to her community, she’s been recognized as an AARP Purpose Prize winner.

 

Today, we’ll hear from Hope about what inspires her perseverance, and what her plans are to expand the project.

 

That’s coming up next.

 

Mike Ellison

Can you paint a picture for me, take us inside the bus, if you will.

Hope Harley

Inside the bus, OK? You open the doors to the bus. Walk up the three stairs and you turn and you look and it's sort of dark and shadowy that I'm thinking of the first exhibit, the first exhibit, Bronx River exhibit and on both sides, on both sides of the aisle are dioramas of what they would see if they were actually visiting the river. So you see the rocks and immediately they hear the sounds of the birds. And, you know, we always had staff inside the bus to explain to children what they were seeing and hearing and to answer any of their questions. So they always came out of the bus smiling.

 

Hi, I’m Mike Ellison with An AARP Take on Today.

 

As a native New Yorker, Hope Harley credits the Brooklyn Children’s Museum with being a haven for her amidst the hustle and bustle of the city. After moving to and working in the Bronx, Harley noticed a massive gap in the Borough, with a lack of a children’s museum for children to encourage creativity and curiosity. A meeting of community leaders led Harley to co-founding the Bronx Children’s Museum, with programs from infancy to the third grade. A recipient of the AARP Purpose prize, Harley sits down with us to discuss the museum, the big purple bus, and Bronx pride.

 

 Hope Harley

Construction work on the building is taking place right now as we speak. And by the end of this year, our building will be open. But the bus came to us as a gift from a family who had created an art bus. And they did that in honor of their daughter, who tragically took her own life.

Hope Harley

And she was an artist and did a lot of art projects with children. When they could no longer manage it, they wanted to donate it someplace. And we were fortunate enough to be the recipient of it. And we took the bus and we immediately retrofitted the bus and and put an exhibit in there. And the first exhibit that was in there was the exhibit about the Bronx River. So we take the bus to schools, we take the bus to street fairs and festivals, and we got the bus in 2011 and we've seen hundreds of thousands of kids.

 

Mike Ellison

What challenge were you working to solve with the Bronx Children's Museum when you started it?

 

Hope Harley

The Bronx historically has felt that it has been overlooked. I'm sure people who are listening to this and you conjure up certain images when you say the Bronx. I am not originally from the Bronx. I was born and bred in Brooklyn, which happens to be the home of the oldest children's museum in the world, the Brooklyn Children's Museum.

 

Mike Ellison

I didn't know that.

 

Hope Harley

So, when I attended this meeting, my children were a little older, they weren't children's museum age. And I just had never thought of the fact that there were hundreds of thousands of kids in the Bronx who could not go someplace in their own neighborhood to experience a children's museum.

 

Mike Ellison

What kind of a difference can a children's museum make and what are the long term impacts of broadening children's horizons?

Hope Harley

Well, first of all, when you give children a sense of themselves, when you give children a sense of pride in where they live… that, it changes everything for them because then those so-called disadvantages, well, they're not so call, but they are disadvantageous, this is reduced. I, I think that's our part of what we believe at the museum. And we knew that there were many children, we know that live in poverty in the Bronx.

Mike Ellison

Hmm.

Hope Harley

There are many children who will never had the opportunity to move outside of their communities, sometimes their block. There are still many children who don't know about all of the beautiful things that are in their home borough, but that they too sort of absorb this negative image of where they live. And I think that, you know, that impacts children.

Hope Harley

So we, you know, put on a concerted effort, one to inform kids about the Bronx and what the Bronx is. The Bronx is the borough with the most parks in the city, the Bronx, is the home of so much history. The Bronx has rivers -- that actually has a Bronx River that I would venture to say most children in the Bronx have never seen.

Mike Ellison

What has community engagement look like surrounding conversations around racial injustice, especially when we're speaking to younger program and attendees? Has that been part of the conversation?

Hope Harley

I don't think that it has been overtly part of the conversation because the population of children that we deal with are young, they're young children. But certainly, we have provided them with cultural experiences. For example, the celebration of music from their individual cultures, whether that be African population, not only African American, but African immigrant population. Of course, we have a very high percentage of Latinx people from all countries, whether it be from Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic or Mexico, Colombia, the Bronx is predominantly black and brown.

Hope Harley

And we want our museum to be reflective of the people and cultures who have made the Bronx what it is and who the Bronx is today.

Mike Ellison

Absolutely.

Hope Harley

We say we're building our museum from the outside in.

Mike Ellison

Mm hmm.

Hope Harley

Most museums, whether they be children's museums or not, you know, they create a museum. They put it in a building, in a space. And then a few years down the road, they create outreach programs. We were forced -- I hate to use the word force because I think it was has been to our benefit -- to work from the outside in. So we started in community. We always check in with community, so that we know that the programs that we're offering, the kinds of exhibits that we're building to go either in the bus or in in the building itself are exhibits that have been kid tested and community approved. That's what I say.

 

Mike Ellison

Kid tested, community approve. I like that. Starting with the community approach. How important is it, when we get on the other side of Covid, to bring people into the same physical space and allow them to experience art in their surroundings, In a new environment?

Hope Harley

I mean, our anchor exhibit is a river. So, because we knew from our research that children love water, they love interacting with water, and so we have a water exhibit and children will be able to put their hands in the water and look boats down the water and and do all those kinds of things. But, yes, we want children to interact with the natural world. So there's art. There's water. We hope to have a little community garden so that kids can learn how to plant things and see them grow.

Hope Harley

We are fortunate enough to be located. The building is actually located in a park, so we will be able to use some of the outer space. And it's on a river. It's on the Harlem River.

Mike Ellison

Oh, nice.

Hope Harley

So we hope to be able to use those spaces as well. The outdoor space associated with the indoor space. And even though, of course, technology can't get away from technology, technology is a part of the world. But we didn't want everything to be a screen.

Mike Ellison

I was going to ask you how the museum has changed operations due to the pandemic, you know, spacing and protocol in place for people.

Hope Harley

Absolutely. And we had to make adjustments to our external problems as well because we interacted. We had a number, we had afterschool programs in 11 different schools. Kids weren't going to school. So how do we how do we reach them, how do we reach their teachers, how do we help their teachers in delivering educational experiences and fun experiences to kids when they're sitting at home? So, we really had to pivot strongly. And I am so proud of our staff of our executive director, Carla Precht, who is just really the hardest working woman in museumdom. And, you know, and our staff who really became I don't know they were I always knew they were creative, but they went above and beyond, I think, in coming up with ideas of how to reach kids and and their educators and their teachers virtually. So we we created new virtual programming.

Hope Harley

And just at the end of the year, we created our very first Go Fund Me campaign to finance what we were calling launch boxes and these launch boxes, our boxes with all kinds of materials so that children, whether they were learning from home or in the classroom, would have the same base of material. So if they're in the classroom, they got them through school. They were also distributed from their schools for kids who were learning at home. And so, the teachers could use the materials in those lunch boxes to deliver programming to the whole class. So, we distributed over a thousand lunch boxes. OK, that was one way of addressing both some of the inequities that every kid didn't have the resources to pull together at home and to equalize for all of the children and in particular classes that that they were using the same materials they started from the same base.

Mike Ellison

Sure. And as part of your story, you have mentioned several times that you felt the museum was not going to work out and then something would happen that would change your perspective. What advice would you have for people who may feel like their efforts just aren't showing the results that they hoped for, especially in the timeframe that they assumed they would happen in?

Hope Harley

I think to first examine where you are and why and be honest with yourself why you're there. And if the answer comes back and to have good counsel, to have people around you who are willing to be honest and who are going to tell you the truth. People have to be comfortable speaking the truth and then evaluate where you are and say, “wait a minute, this we can do this”. Many times, I thought about giving up on this. And, you know, really I really said, “you know, we might as well give up. This is not going to work.” You know, that things would you would move two steps forward and then something would happen and like, “oh god,” you throw up your hands every year. This is 2021. And every year, I think since 2013 was a year that we were going to be opening, going to open this year. We're going to be open this year and it can work on your spirit. But you know, I used to joke my name is Hope. So, I have to personify the name.

 

Mike Ellison:

Up next: How did Hope react when she found out that she had won the AARP Purpose Prize?

 

We have a few announcements. 

As tax season approaches, AARP Tax-Aide is here for you, to answer any questions and help you navigate the complicated world of filing taxes. This year, to reduce the spread of Covid-19, Tax-Aide is providing remote tax assistance. Free of charge to anyone, AARP Foundation’s Tax-Aide program has a special focus on taxpayers who are 50 or older or who have low to moderate income.

Tax-Aide volunteers are located nationwide and are trained and IRS-certified every year to make sure they know are as up to date as possible with any additions or changes to the tax code. You can now visit AARP dot org slash tax aide to request tax help.

And we’re pleased to announce the launch of AARP’s Virtual Community Center, a new online destination for AARP members and non-members alike.

With everything from free movies, concerts, cooking classes and museum tours, to exercise classes, caregiving help, and lectures from top professors, the new virtual center offers free interactive online events and classes designed for learning, self-improvement, and fun. You can find a link to the Virtual Community Center in our show notes.

And now we turn to Hollywood’s awaited awards season! AARP The Magazine has announced the nominees for its annual Movies for Grownups Awards. For 20 years, The Movies for Grownups program has championed movies for grownups, by grownups, by advocating for the 50-plus audience, fighting industry ageism and encouraging films that resonate with older viewers. This year, AARP is expanding its Awards program to honor standout Streaming and TV programs in new categories.

The awards will be hosted by iconic co-anchor of the TODAY show Hoda Kotb.

From Tom Hanks and Viola Davis to Jennifer Anniston and Spike Lee, see all of the actors, directors, films and more that have been nominated for big honors at AARP's annual Movies for Grownups Awards — broadcast by Great Performances on Sunday, March 28 at 8 p.m. on PBS, check your local listings.

 

Hope Harley

I don't know if it was our executive director or our director of development sent me this email and said, “Read this about this AARP Purpose Prize, we think you should apply,” and I'm like, “Hey, nothing beats a failure to try to. Let's do it.” And I've since learned, because I had a conversation with a Purpose Prize winner from last year, I guess, 2019 Purpose Prize winner, 2019-2020 purpose prize winner. And she said that she, that cohort had the opportunity to meet in person, so they had the opportunity to talk to one another in that each one of them kept saying they couldn't believe that they won. And she said yeah, each step of the way they said, “Oh yeah, you made it through this.”

 

Hope Harley

And I said and I said, exactly, because honestly, even on the day that I got the call and was told that that I was one of the Purpose Prize winners, I wasn't thinking that I was one of the five Purpose Prize winners that I said, oh, I must be one of the fellows. And, and it wasn't until five minutes or more into the conversation. And I said, “wait a minute, I won?” you know, and you know, it was not…It just seemed… there was so…first of all, the people who the other purpose prize winners are just such extraordinary people with extraordinary programs that it's hard to put yourself in the same category with them.

 

Mike Ellison

OK.

 

Hope Harley

And then we also met the 10 fellows, and their programs are extraordinary. And I don't like…what? It's very humbling. It's still very difficult to believe. But so very, very, very, very grateful. AARP has just been... You know the prize, yes, you get a monetary prize, and that's significant and meaningful and wonderful, but all of the other resources that AARP offers through the, to their purpose prize winners, are amazing, all of the technical support that we're just getting into now…It's I don't know whose idea it was, but they should want a Purpose Prize for the Purpose Prize idea.

 

Mike Ellison

This has been fantastic. Hope Harley, you have given us a lot to chew on. I want to just ask if there's any final words, if there's anything that we didn't cover that you'd like to share with our audience.

 

Hope Harley

Well, you know, I always have to put on a plug for the museum. So, if anybody is interested in learning more about us, you can visit our website at Bronx Children's Museum dot org. It's and sign up for our newsletter. We send out a monthly newsletter and we'll keep you abreast. I know there are a lot of people out there who love children, people who, who like children's museums, like taking their kids when they travel, when everyone's traveling again, they visit New York. Maybe they want to visit our museum. And there are a lot of ex-New Yorkers and maybe people who have connection to the Bronx, who would also like to know about they didn't grow up with a children's museum, so they would like to know what the Bronx Children's Museum is all about.

Hope Harley is co-founder of the Bronx Children’s Museum. Check them out at Bronx Children’s Museum.org. She’s also a Purpose Prize winner.

If you or someone you know over 50 are interested applying for the AARP Purpose Prize, visit AARP.org /apply for official rules. Applications must be submitted by March 31, 2021.

If you liked this episode, please share it with a friend and email news podcast at AARP.org.

 

Thanks to our team. 

 

Producers, Colby Nelson and Danny Alarcon. 

Production Assistant, Fernando Snellings. 

Engineer, Julio Gonzalez. 

Executive producer, Jason Young. 

And of course, my cohosts, Bob Edwards and Wilma Consul.

 

Become a subscriber on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher, or other apps. Be sure to rate our show as well. 

 

For an AARP Take On Today, I'm Mike Ellison. Thanks for listening.

Up until 2016, the Bronx was the only of New York’s five boroughs without a Children’s Museum. As a native Brooklynite, Hope Harley saw first-hand the impact of having a safe, exploratory space for children that instilled borough pride and wanted to bring that to the Bronx. We sit down with Hope and discuss the Bronx Children’s Museum, her AARP Purpose Prize, and how continued determination has gotten her to where she is today.

For more information:

Subscribe:  Apple Podcasts | Google Play | Spotify | Stitcher | TuneIn

How to Listen and Subscribe to 'Take on Today' Podcast

iPhone or iPad

  1. Open the Apple Podcasts app, search for the show title and select it from the list of results.
  2. Once on the show page, click the "Subscribe" button to have new episodes sent to your phone or tablet for free.
  3. Click the name of an episode from the list below to listen.

Android Phone or Tablet

  1. Open the Google Play Music app, search for the show title and select it from the list of results.
  2. Once on the show page, click the "Subscribe" button to have new episodes sent to your phone or tablet for free.
  3. Click the name of an episode from the list below to listen.
  1. To play podcasts on your Amazon Echo smart speaker, ask the following: "Alexa, ask TuneIn to play Take on Today podcast" OR "Alexa, play Take on Today podcast on TuneIn"
  2. To play podcasts on your Google Home smart speaker, ask the following: "Hey Google, play Take on Today podcast"
     

Join the Discussion

0 | Add Yours

Please leave your comment below.

You must be logged in to leave a comment.