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Port Discover eyes January reopening

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Duffy Danish, the new executive director of Port Discover, talks about upcoming changes and new ideas for children's learning projects at the hands-on science learning center, inside the Port Discover building in downtown Elizabeth City, Tuesday. Danish plans to reopen the science center in January.

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Port Discover's new executive director says she's aiming to reopen downtown Elizabeth City’s hands-on science center for kids in January.

“I really think Port Discover is amazing and I think it can be better than its glory days,” Duffy Danish, the nonprofit’s new leader, said Tuesday.

Annya Soucy, chairwoman of Port Discover’s board of directors, said Danish was hired late last month after the board discovered she has the “comprehensive” skills and enthusiasm needed to restart the center.

Port Discover closed abruptly in August after former board Chairman Russ Haddad reported the agency lacked operational funding.

Not long afterward, however, community members jumped in to save the science center, which Soucy described as a unique, vital asset to the education of young children.

That's a sentiment Danish shares — though she had only lived in Elizabeth City for about two months when Port Discover closed. Danish explained that her husband's career brought her to Elizabeth City; Michael Danish works at the U.S. Coast Guard's Aviation Logistics Center.

When her family moved to Elizabeth City, Danish said she brought their toddler to Port Discover, and she was impressed with its potential. When she learned the science center was closing, she felt she had the skill set needed to save it, and contacted board members.

Danish explained she holds a master's degree in teaching from Connecticut College, plus a certification in museum management. She also coached in her college sailing program.

Her husband's Coast Guard assignments took them to Corpus Christi, Texas, and then Miami, where Danish directed and grew yacht clubs. She was particularly instrumental in growing the Corpus Christi club, working as a “one-woman band” to run and expand activities for kids and adults, she said.

Danish also started a women's cycling club in Miami, and, upon moving to Washington, D.C., worked as a sales representative for bicycle companies.

Danish’s experience working with nonprofits and teaching children made her arrival in Elizabeth City “serendipitous,” according to Soucy, who added she and other board members have approved Danish's plan for reopening Port Discover.

Danish said her husband is assigned to Elizabeth City for three years, and acknowledged they may have to leave after then. However, she said she's hoping to greatly improve Port Discover in her three years here. If she serves that long, she will have served longer than the last two directors, both of whom left Port Discover after less than a year.

Right now, Danish and other volunteers are painting and reorganizing Port Discover's first floor. Danish explained her guiding principle is to organize activities that tie into the area's features and assets. That helps kids understand their community better, and how science affects how people there live and work, she said.

That framework will give new context to returning Port Discover activities like the aviation-oriented flight simulator and Bernoulli table, as well as the water table, and guide new activities and exhibits, Danish said. She noted she's working on an agricultural exhibit that will include hands-on activities and a map of the area's farms.

She and Soucy also explained they're tweaking the swamp exhibit, and replacing outdated materials in the nutritional exhibit.

Danish also said Port Discover knows that children learn in different ways, and so will offer visual, auditory and tactile activities throughout the exhibits.

As for making Port Discover financially sustainable again, Soucy said Port Discover has some fund balance left to cover short-term expenses. However, she and Danish said outside support will be vital to keeping the science center open. They're already pursuing grants and planning fundraising activities for next year.

Danish said Port Discover also will start charging a nominal daily fee, possibly $5, for a child to use its activities. Week-long, family passes will also likely be offered, she said. Port Discover had only asked for “suggested donations” before, she said.

Mindful that some families have very limited resources, Danish said she's hoping to offer passes to families in need, which could be distributed through area libraries.

Soucy and Danish also said Port Discover welcomes volunteer help as the nonprofit gets back up and running, and is also still taking on new board members. For more information, call Port Discover at 338-6117.

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