Oh Wow! Reopens Inspire Works as It Marks 8 Years

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The Oh Wow! The Roger & Gloria Jones Children’s Center for Science & Technology celebrates its eighth anniversary Saturday with the grand reopening of its InspireWorks Lab, even as it looks ahead to its 10th.

Oh Wow has engaged Roto Design Studios of Dublin, Ohio, to evaluate the center’s first-floor exhibits and determine how they can best be used, and whether they need to be repaired or replaced, says Suzanne Barbati, Oh Wow’s president and executive director.  

“We’re preparing for our 10th anniversary in 2021 and we expect to be here in 100 years,” Barbati says. “Everything we do is focused on that effort – to be here, to be a resource not just for families but for schools throughout the five-county area.”

The InspireWorks space opened in 2015. Because the space needs to be staffed, that opening was on a temporary basis, but it has been open full-time for the last 18 months.

“It continues to go through changes,” Barbati says.

Spearheading those changes is Aislinn Janek, inventory supervisor for Oh Wow. Janek attended a professional development boot camp at the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum and researched other maker spaces in schools, classrooms and museums. Most of her ideas came from the Stanford University maker space in its school of design, she says. 

The most recent change to InspireWorks is the addition of $20,000 worth of materials and equipment for sewing, embroidery and woodworking donated by McRoyal Industries, a Youngstown manufacturer of counters, cabinets and other products, and its owner, the Lallo family.

“We wanted to bring more real materials into the space,” Janek says. InspireWorks previously had a lot of what would be considered “crafting supplies,” such as recycled materials, straws, pipe cleaners and such. The new tools in the maker space include saws, hammers and screwdrivers. 

In the InspireWorks now hangs a sign recognizing the donation by the Lallo family in memory of the late John and Diana Lallo. 

“We looked for different avenues to support the community and do that through things that we believe our parents would have funded,” says Melissa Lallo Johnson, one of the Lallo children, who lives in Kansas City, Mo. Her father was president of the Liberty school board and her mother was a teacher in the system. They died a few years ago in a crash of their small plane.

Johnson says she and her siblings bring their children to Oh Wow when they return Youngstown. A couple years ago, they donated the flight simulator now used in the airplane on Oh Wow’s main floor and, more recently, discussed with Barbati other ways they could support the center and help children learn “different things,” Johnson recalls. 

They decided to come up with a way to facilitate parents and children working together in a way that incorporated the Lallo family’s passion for woodworking, which is a “dying trade,” she says. 

Going hand in hand with that was her mother’s passion for sewing. “Our mother was very crafty and loved to sew,” Johnson says. In fact, much of the sewing equipment donated to Oh Wow, including the quilting machine, had been purchased for Diana Lallo but she never got to use it, her daughter laments.   

“When the opportunity came up, it seemed so right to donate” the equipment, she says. “This is what they would have wanted.”

The quilting machine won’t be introduced for public use until staff members have had more time to be trained on the equipment, Barbati says.   

The changes to InspireWorks tie into Oh Wow’s desire to align more with community needs, including the need to encourage more people to enter the skilled trades, Barbati says. 

“That’s the foundation of why we’re making these changes,” she says. 

Oh Wow has discussed these needs with its manufacturing partners through the annual Summer Manufacturing Institute at Oh Wow as well as manufacturing coalitions at the local, state and federal levels. The skilled trades are important, Barbati says, and if Oh Wow can “be a resource and encourage people to understand what that looks like, we’re happy to do it.”

“It provides a new experience for our visitors. It helps us become a community resource,” she says.   

“What’s really awesome about this room is how malleable or flexible it can be,” Janek says. All the equipment and tables are on casters, she pointed out. “That is by design so the room can become whatever we want it to be whenever we need it,” she says.   

Once the review is competed, planning will begin to make whatever changes are deemed necessary, according to Barbati. She expects there will be a lot more for visitors to experience by the 10th anniversary. 

“We’re all about continuous improvement,” she says. “We’re constantly evaluating what’s happening here, how can we be a better resource for the community, how can we be a better partner in the downtown area, how can we bring more people into the downtown area and increase our impact.” 

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.