New science & discovery center in Beulah
By Nicole L. Bates
Squeals of joy greet you the moment that you walk in the door. In one corner of the room, little learners can be found building with gears, while others are using small tools at a workbench. From the bow of a toy sailboat, kids and parents are pretending to fish. Later in the day, the group will get the chance to feed Severus Snake, as well as to touch Quillow, the spiky hedgehog, and the smooth shell of Mellow Yellow, one of two red-eared yellow-bellied slider turtles in the facility. Contained within a new, custom-made formicarium, the industrious nature of an ant colony that never stops working can be seen.
COGNiTiON Science & Discovery Center is a multi-generational educational center that adds a unique attraction of community and cultural significance to Benzie County. The facility features interactive exhibits that are designed to inspire, educate, and stimulate exploration of natural wonders, scientific principles, fine art, and more. Visitors to the center will enjoy its interactive exhibits, seasonal camps, special programs, changing themes, demonstrations, and guest speakers.
There are day passes available at the door, only $4 per child, and it covers the entire day. Seasonal and annual memberships are also available. The space can also be rented for private parties. There are a multitude of ways to enjoy this space, which is designed after a museum yet is very flexible in meeting individual needs.
To facilitate learning through time spent in awe and wonder, and to inspire others to investigate the many facets of the world around them—that is the mission of COGNiTiON. Kimmee Wenkel, president and co-founder of this non-profit organization, embodies this mission statement and carries it out every day with passion and enthusiasm that shines through her from the moment that you walk through the door. She stresses that she wants this to be a place for inter-generational connection.
“I love seeing it work, seeing curiosity inspired across different ages,” Wenkel says of the learning center.
The seed that would later grow into COGNiTiON was planted in 2015, when Wenkel spent the day with her four children at the Imagination Station in Toledo, Ohio. They had so much fun that they spent the entire day there, right up until closing, and it was then that Wenkel decided that she wanted Benzie County families to have this experience a bit closer to home.
So she and her mother, Laura Stanwick, the other co-founder of COGNiTiON, got to work on the idea: they started the research and business plan in October 2015 and were incorporated by December of that year. They obtained non-profit status in September 2016, developed the board, and began raising the funds for an actual space. This process took about a year and a half.
Since incorporating in December of 2015, COGNiTiON has been raising funds to create a space that provides hands-on experiences, explorations, and experiments. On January 20, 2017, the non-profit launched the first phase of that plan with a soft-opening of the Science & Discovery Center in downtown Beulah; the grand opening was held in May 2017.
Currently, the center is working to incorporate more technology, in the form of virtual reality exhibits, with the help of software designer and new board member, Aaron Harris. (You can follow the COGNiTiON Facebook page to find out the days and times for these special virtual reality events.)
Many local groups have been eager to get involved with COGNiTiON.
“Recently, McLain Cycle & Fitness of Traverse City donated 27 gently used bikes and large sales counters,” Wenkel says. “So far, three of the bikes are being used in an exhibit, three have gone to good homes via door prizes, two have found a home with a family that has a COGNiTiON membership and volunteers gladly, and we are working on a plan to disperse the rest to the community in the near future.”
Additionally, the Benzie Sunrise Rotary Club granted $2,030 towards the Gears, Circuits, and Power (oh my!) Exhibit that the bikes are a part of, and that also includes the center’s large educational K’NEX collection.
“We have also been blessed by Nugent Ace Hardware [of Benzonia], with a sweet busy board in our boat exhibit,” Wenkel continues. “Honor Building Supply donated the lumber for our first homemade exhibit—the big circuit wall. And we’ve enjoyed hosting a playgroup with Grow Benzie and 5toOne; it meets the last Tuesday of the month at Grow Benzie from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.”
To complement the fantastic exhibits that you can experience in the center, there is also a gift shop, featuring toys and gifts that will expand your child’s mind, while keeping you engaged, as well.
Though they are settling into their new space, the non-profit’s board is by no means settling. They have a long-term vision that includes moving into a larger space, but remaining in downtown Beulah. In a variety of ways, COGNiTiON hopes to feature and support local businesses, as well as being a send-off point to the best that our area has to offer—the hope is that COGNiTiON will draw guests to the beautiful little town of Beulah and help to sustain the community and other businesses in the area.
Plans for the future of COGNiTiON are grand and inspiring—COGNiTiON is seeking to raise $1.5 million from grants and other fundraising efforts, which could also include low-interest loans, if necessary.
Imagine walking into a children’s playscape, full of fun and educational toys that little hands are encouraged to touch. From there, enter into a “fairy garden,” where you become the fairy, scampering beneath giant ferns and mushrooms. Next, you will encounter animals of all kinds that, unlike those at the zoo, you can pet and hold and feed. If you ever tire of interacting with the animals, you could become a weather reporter or climb through a giant tree into a Swiss Family Robinson-style treehouse, while learning about the parts and processes of these forest giants. After learning in the treehouse, you enter into an active orchard, where apples and cherries are ripe for picking and ready to be transported to nearby mini-cafes and storefronts in an active replica of our Northern Michigan hamlet.
If they get the location that they are hoping for—currently the Old Kenney Garage, a beautiful brick building with an arched roof at 163 S. Benzie Boulevard in downtown Beulah—the second story of the future building might feature an art studio or maker space, as well as a gallery. There could be a small theater, featuring inspiring and innovative films such as the Planet Earth series or 20th Century Fox’s Robots, movies that kids and parents, even grandparents, would enjoy and that would inspire ideas and conversation.
How To Get Involved
Perhaps the easiest way to get involved in this exciting endeavor is to show up and check out the space for yourself. Walk around, play, bring the kids.
If you want to be a part of making the board’s long-term vision become a reality, you can become a COGtributor, a COGzibit sponsor, or a COGmission founder today. (Details can be found at DiscoverCognition.org. You can also donate online at HometownGiving.org.)
“Our members have become part of our family,” Wenkel says of those who have already donated to COGNiTiON’s efforts, adding that more members are needed for the non-profit to grow into a bigger space. COGNiTiON currently has 61 member families, with multiple individuals included in each family.
Are you a scientist or a kids’ entertainer with a focus on education? Or maybe you just want to volunteer? Giving of your time or talents is also a fantastic way to support the continued growth of this year-round local community center.
And in a unique spin on advertising, with a focus on connecting with the community, those who are passionate about furthering COGNiTiON’s mission, or those who are just looking for a fun birthday party theme, can host a house party. Invite your friends—and their kids—and COGNiTiON will bring a unique, hands-on learning experience into your home!
As far as the multi-generational connection that Wenkel loves to see at the educational center, she sees it happening in her own family, as well. Her mother, Laura Stanwick, continues to help to run the center and has encouraged her from the start. Stanwick lives in Frankfort and is retired from occupational therapy at Paul Oliver Memorial Hospital.
“She is talented in many ways including art, creativity, attention to detail, and loving care,” Wenkel beams about her mother.
However, Wenkel’s husband and four children also provide feedback on new exhibits and help to find new material for the center.
It is truly a family-centered business.
Located at 244 S. Benzie Boulevard in Beulah, COGNiTiON is a hands-on learning center for kids of all ages. Open Tuesday through Thursday from 1-5:30 p.m., Fridays from 1-7 p.m., and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Also this summer, COGNiTiON is offering day camps from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Tuesdays through Fridays, featuring themes ranging from Machine Madness to Wild Animals. A full schedule of dates and themes is available on their website at DiscoverCognition.org or call 231-383-4095. You can also follow them at Facebook.com/DiscoverCOGnition or on Instagram at @discover_cognition.