Catonsville’s Better World Imaginarium raising money this weekend to benefit the Children’s House at Johns Hopkins

Lisa Swayhoover in her Catonsville toy store, "Better World Imaginarium"
Lisa Swayhoover in her Catonsville toy store, "Better World Imaginarium" (Cody Boteler / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Better World Imaginarium, a toy and bookstore on Frederick Road in Catonsville, is raising proceeds this weekend for Neighborhood Toy Store Day to benefit the Believe in Tomorrow Children’s House at Johns Hopkins.

Starting Friday and running through Sunday, the toy store will donate 10% of its net profits to the nonprofit, whose headquarters are based in Catonsville’s Paradise neighborhood.


The Children’s House, a 15-room lodge that provides housing for the families of critically ill pediatric patients being treated at Johns Hopkins Hospital, opened in 1993, funded by contributions from the Believe in Tomorrow Foundation.

The nonprofit offers hospital housing in Baltimore and respite housing, a free program that offers getaway accommodations to families of terminally ill children across the country, and not just those being treated by Johns Hopkins doctors, said Tiffany Crofkey, director of family services for the Children’s House at the Believe in Tomorrow Foundation.


Ninety-five percent of donated funds go directly back into the program, Crofkey said. That money is used to buy appliances, toiletries and food for lodged families, among other things, she said.

Since March, the Children’s House hospital program is sheltering seven to eight patients and their families due to coronavirus concerns, Crofkey said. Most of those children are critical trauma patients.

For Lisa Swayhoover, who opened Better World Imaginarium in the summer of 2019, raising money for local philanthropic groups is part of her mission.

Swayhoover, who has a Ph.D. in international education policy, had Better World designated as a Benefit LLC, a state designation for for-profit businesses signaling their intention to provide a public benefit and to operate in a sustainable manner.

The designation doesn’t come with material benefits or tax breaks for designees.

"It’s just me making a statement that this is what I’m about,” Swayhoover said. “My mission is to be a part of the community and give money back to the community.”

And using Neighborhood Toy Store Day — a national campaign by the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association meant to boost sales at local, independently owned toy shops before Black Friday sales push consumers toward big box stores — fits in with that vision, Swayhoover said.

Swayhoover is also guided by the idea “that you could learn about kids in other countries by seeing what they play with."

The toys one might find in Better World would be difficult to find in a big box store. Swayhoover carries books that feature a diverse range of characters and settings, arts and crafts, toys geared toward teaching kids about science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and jigsaw puzzles for kids and adults alike.

Swayhoover said that while the community has been extremely supportive of her business during the pandemic, sales are still down. She’s trying to build up her online presence while she shifts to e-commerce.

Better World Imaginarium also does local delivery, and proceeds from those sales, too, will be donated to the Children’s House this weekend. For those who aren’t comfortable shopping around others, they can call the store to make a private appointment.

Better World Imaginarium’s holiday hours are 10 am. to 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays. The store is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, and until 4 p.m. Wednesdays.

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