We’re excited to introduce you to Stephanie Freemyer, whose team incubated the idea of an indoor play space called WonderSpace as participants in one of our 2018 Hatch-a-thons! Stephanie hails from Marion, IN and also serves as Children’s Ministry Director at College Wesleyan Church. For more info on WonderSpace, visit its Facebook page or read this Marion Chronicle Tribune article.
I call myself a finder, and not a founder. Why? Because this whole thing was an idea I sort of stumbled into. In March of 2018, with just a hunch about the importance of indoor play spaces and the dream to see families united, two friends and I brought a very vague idea to the Hatch-a-thon, an event designed to launch new social enterprises. But even after a couple days of innovative design thinking and coaching, we were stuck. We were struggling to answer the questions, and when we did finally work out a response to one of the prompts, the room applauded for us because they knew we were struggling, too. It was a stretching and humbling experience.
We realized that we were stuck, which is why I think we gave up trying to think of good ideas, left the conference, and went to a dumpster to collect cardboard boxes. We had talked and strategized so much about play, we decided that we needed to see it in action. We gathered boxes from dumpsters and attics and brought them home to the real founders of WonderSpace: our kids.
We turned our idea over to the play experts and let them lead us. At first, we stood back and watched them reimagine the boxes. But they wanted to take us with them, so we followed—climbing, crawling, and creating along with them. Sure, we all got lice from the boxes we pulled out of the dumpsters for our experiment… and sure, we had a huge mess to clean up in the living room afterwards (read: pulling scraps of cardboard and tape off the carpet for weeks), but in the end my oldest son declared, “Mom, I want to keep this forever!” I believe it was in this moment that WonderSpace was found. I know my son didn’t mean that he wanted to keep the cardboard forever, and he certainly didn’t mean he wanted to keep the lice… so what was it that he wanted to keep forever? He wanted to keep the same thing I wanted to keep—a sense of wonder and togetherness.
This became my hope for WonderSpace: to provide a place for family formation—that long after the materials are recycled, there remains a long-lasting impact on our children, families, and community from the play we experience together.
Driven by a desire for all children to experience the play, togetherness, and laughter my family experienced that night, I spent the next three months jumping through every hoop and pushing open every door I could find. Honestly, I raced down a lot of paths that kept me super busy and overwhelmed and led nowhere, but they weren’t needless paths. I learned about a lot of things that wouldn’t work in this season. I even revisited doors I had already tried only to have many of them shut all over again. But not all of them slammed shut. I went back to a door that I had tried before to find that this time was different. This time, when I knocked at the doors of a local church in Grant County, it swung wide open. In fact, the door swung open so wide that WonderSpace instantly went from $500 to the potential of $75,000 if we could raise the funds to match their gift. This support is what launched WonderSpace into reality. With money, support, and a church willing to take a risk with us, WonderSpace could begin exploring, researching, and developing play that would unite families and our community.
Fast forward to March of 2019. WonderSpace now has the support not only of one local church, but of other local churches in the area as well. The Community Foundation of Grant County has awarded us a grant along with two other anonymous foundations. Because we don’t have funding yet to buy a permanent building, we have designed 3 mobile play exhibits that can be packed into a 26-foot moving truck and moved around the city for “pop up play events.” We have opened WonderSpace to the community twice (once in a church and second in a school gymnasium) and have already experienced playing with over 400 people from Grant County. I have met so many new people in our city in these past 12 months and have become friends with many. Even in the designing phase, WonderSpace is doing exactly what we had hoped! We’re building friendships, meeting our neighbors, and creating a sense of togetherness.
I call myself a finder because this journey honestly has been one of us finding the next step and taking it. God has orchestrated so much of this journey that I couldn’t even detail to you how to do what we’ve done. Growing up my dad often quoted, “It’s all of Christ and nothing of myself.” That phrase keeps playing over in my mind as we see WonderSpace take shape. This isn’t happening because of what we’ve done, it’s happening because of what God is doing. Recently I was asked, “what about God’s character surprises you?” I know God is just, I know God is creative. I’ve witnessed God as compassionate and loving. However, I’ve never thought of God as playful. But the ways in which God is providing all our needs for WonderSpace causes me to pause and wonder for myself, “what is it about play that God cares so much about? How is God made known through play?”
Through prayer and through the relationships WonderSpace is making, I’m going to keep finding for WonderSpace: finding the next grant, finding the next door, finding the next relationship or friend, finding the next exhibit that unites our community and families in play. Because in finding WonderSpace, I am finding God.
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