Dinora Padilla: Innovation through Play at Explorium

Story by Michelle Ramstead. Photos courtesy of Explorium Denton Children’s Museum.

The mission of Explorium Denton Children’s Museum is simple: Engage, Explore, and Educate. Founder Anyah Martinez had these principles in mind when she started the museum in 2012, hoping to create a place for children to learn and play alongside their parents. After eight years of building an organization that blends education with fun, Anyah is stepping down as the executive director, and Dinora Padilla is thrilled to be taking over. 

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Dinora began volunteering in high school, and has worked in the nonprofit sector for eight years. She has been involved with Explorium Denton since its inception, when staff and volunteers would bring educational activities to schools, community events, and childcare centers. Soon after the museum opened its permanent location in 2018, she signed on as the on-site director, and has dedicated herself to its mission ever since. 

Innovation is at the heart of everything at Explorium Denton. The museum is filled with tactile exhibitions that teach children skills they may never learn inside a classroom or at home. Past activities include sewing, collage making, book binding, and even lessons on how to milk a cow. Educational Program Director, Kaitlynn Skinner, designs activities with the community in mind, and they are always finding unique ways to utilize donations to create fun activities in a sustainable way. Whether it’s drawing, building, climbing, or simply observing, there’s something in it for everyone. 

Explorium Denton partners with Serve Denton, an organization that helps nonprofits expand their services, to administer the Early Childhood Intervention Project. ECI provides support for children with developmental delays, and since opening its doors two years ago, Explorium has given out 170 family memberships to ECI families at no cost. At $99 per membership, that’s over $16,000 given to children in need. 

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Each family membership allows up to five family members to come to the museum, as long as they make a reservation. For ECI families, this provides an opportunity for children to work on their developmental goals in a child-friendly environment. Dinora shared a story of one family who brings their child to the museum for his therapy sessions. His mother is able to observe as his therapist models new skills using materials supplied by the museum, which allows her to continue working with him outside of these sessions. This is just one of the many examples of how Explorium Denton is changing the lives of children and families in the community.

September is cause for celebration at the museum. Their second anniversary since opening the brick-and-mortar location is the same week as North Texas Giving Day. To celebrate, they are passing out free ice cream kits to members of the community, who can then join the staff on Facebook to make ice cream together. Last year the museum was able to raise almost $10,000 dollars during NTxGD, and they are hopeful that this year will bring in the same amount. If they are successful, they plan to extend their no-cost memberships to Cumberland House, a foster home and safe house that provides shelter for victims of domestic violence and abuse. 

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North Texas Giving Day comes at a bittersweet time for Explorium Denton Children’s Museum. Though she is excited to celebrate their anniversary and is optimistic about the future, Dinora acknowledges that the pandemic has been challenging for many in the community. She is gracious in her understanding that they may not meet their goal of $10,000, which could unfortunately force them to close their doors in the next couple months. 

Dinora’s passion for education is evident in the way she lights up when she talks about the museum, and her love for children and her community motivates her to carry out their mission each and every day. She believes the best part of what they do is allowing kids to learn in the way that comes most naturally to them – through play. 

In addition to donating on NTxGD, there are a number of other ways to give back to Explorium. You can donate any time through their website, and they also provide a monthly list of items needed from the community. These often include simple things like bottle caps or egg cartons, and every little bit counts. The museum is also in need of volunteers, offers internship opportunities for college students, and currently has two openings for board members that they are looking to fill. 

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