July 30--BRISTOL -- On the last day of December each year, there's a spot in the city where the new year is celebrated hours before anywhere else.
It's also the place where youngsters get to learn about science, animals and the world of TV sports, and where National Watermelon Day and National Ice Cream Month are big deals.
The Imagine Nation Museum changed the downtown landscape when it opened in 2004, and this fall it's inviting the community to a 10-year anniversary party.
The Boys and Girls Club and the Family Center run the roughly 23,000-square-foot museum on Pleasant Street in a three-story brick building. Over the years, it has entertained thousands of young visitors with exhibits on everything from gardening to magnets.
Some displays and activities, such as one about space travel, are intended as educational; others, such as the annual Easter bunny visit, are simply for fun.
One of the Imagine Nation's signature events is the New Year's Eve celebration for children, with an early countdown, confetti and ball drop. Beforehand, youngsters are invited to tour the museum's displays about New Year's traditions in other countries.
"What I love about the Imagine Nation Museum is that it's cyclical, in that every five or six years, it introduces a new generation of 2- to 10-year-olds to opening their imagination," said Ellen Zoppo, a city council member and former Boys and Girls Club staff member.
Among the museum's most popular attractions is the mock ESPN Sports Center studio, where youngsters get to take turns playing sports broadcaster.
Many attractions have changed over the years, but one that has stayed intact since the beginning is the old-fashioned soda fountain. It was donated by the Redman Dairy, a local ice cream shop that was popular until it closed in the 1970s.
Many of the displays and exhibits were funded by local businesses or other donors, and the museum continues seeking financial supporters. It is inviting residents to mark their calendars for the evening of Sept. 20, when it will host a gala and fundraiser from 6 to 11 p.m.
Museum Director Doreen Stickney promises "three floors of fabulous food, cocktails, a live and silent auction, entertainment, and more," and said proceeds will benefit future educational programs at the museum. Tickets are $60 and available through http://www.imaginenation.org/enterprise-event/ten-year-anniversary.
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