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Laurel Historical Society weathering coronavirus pandemic with grants, new ideas | Old Town

The Laurel Historical Society’s 2020 Gala was going to be a big event. Not only is the gala the largest fundraiser for the society, but it was scheduled for April 4, the 150th anniversary of the city’s incorporation.

Its cancellation amid the coronavirus pandemic meant a significant loss of income for the group, which operates the Laurel Museum and educates the community about the city’s past. It was compounded by the shuttering of the museum, which offers free admission but welcomes donations, and the loss of gift shop sales. Those sources provided a steady stream of funding.

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Thanks to two emergency grants it received totaling more than $15,000, the society has been able to maintain its staff and operations. The money will plug holes in its operating fund created by the pandemic.

“They recognized that a lot of nonprofits and a lot of agencies lost a lot of revenue,” said Ann Bennett, the society’s executive director. “We’ve been really fortunate to get the funding support that we did.”

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The two emergency operating fund grants came from the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority and the Maryland Humanities Council. Both help cover basic operating expenses like salaries and programming.

In addition, the society will host three virtual summer camps. An archaeology camp for rising fifth through seventh graders will run Aug. 3 to 7. A GSK Science in the Summer Camp with a focus on chemistry will run Aug. 10 to 14 and is open to rising students in grades second through sixth. A Rube Goldberg camp for rising third through fifth graders will run Aug. 17 to 21. The archaeology and Rube Goldberg camps are funded through a National Endowment for the Humanities CARES Act grant. The camps are free and registration is available by contacting info@laurelhistoricalsociety.org.

The pandemic has dealt a severe blow to many organizations in the nonprofit community, with galas canceled, museums and other buildings closed, and events scrapped. Bennett said because the Laurel Museum is small and the society is a community organization, it has weathered the storm.

“It’s good to be a small museum in this situation,” she said. “Because we have a small staff, we could really take a pause to say ‘What are our strengths? How do we pivot?’ ”

Assistant Director Monica Sturdivant, an artist, created coloring pages. The society posted puzzles, games and activities online that families could complete at home. The group offers video walk-throughs of portions of the current 150th anniversary exhibit. It solicited materials from the community to add to its collection related to the pandemic, racial justice protests and at-home celebrations of the city’s anniversary.

“Thanks to opportunities the funding gives us, we are able to continue that going forward,” Bennett said. “We’re going to be looking at turning our fall program into lectures and presentations online. We will still be a resource of community engagement.”

For more information, go to laurelhistoricalsociety.org.

My last column highlighted the work of the sustainability group Laurel for the Patuxent, including its effort to plant 150 native trees in honor of the city’s 150th anniversary. That column neglected to recognize several members who contributed many hours to this time-intensive project. Recognition and thanks go out to Ruth Walls, Bobbi McCeney and Pauline Apling for their dedication to beautifying and protecting our community.

Thank you, ladies!

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