General Information About Membership

Why is the Forge a nonprofit? Why don't you just charge to get things done?

We believe that everyone should have access to a family-friendly community where all ages can be part of the energy and collaborative learning where we as a society deal with new technology and life skills.

  • The ratio of adult-students and volunteer-participants is a crazy number. There is no way that this can be paid for by the typical family. These are experts in their fields, people who want to be involved with all ages learning and exploring science, technology, engineering, art and math. How does one pay them for their time other than by huge thanks and providing an environment that works.

    Last year, we had 20,000 of adult volunteer hours. If that was charged at an average of $50/hour (low for a software engineer!), that would be $1,000,000 just for staff.
  • To keep the cost down, we count on:
    • Family membership fees for those who can afford it ($350/year for the whole family)
    • Program fees to cover some of the costs of the programs (total cost of materials plus minimal overhead fee divided by the number of member participants)
    • Grants and sponsorship from companies like GoogleFiber, Lenovo, United Therapeutics, and MetLife.
    • Donations from individuals -- many of whom are members. Our donations have ranged from $5 to $65,000 but most of our donations are in the $50 to $1000 level from people like you and me who see how their family's lives have been impacted.

Why do you keep stressing that "The Forge is run by volunteers"? Why should I care?

There is currently no paid staff except for one part time person who makes sure we follow legal requirements with the IRS. That means there is no one paid to write newsletters, no one paid to clean up the toys, no one to take out the garbage and recycling, no one paid to sort LEGOs, no one paid to clean up the shop, no one paid to sweep the floors or clean the bathrooms.

  • We're certainly hoping to find some way to raise the funds to make some of that happen. Our long term vision is to have staff to provide the basic framework of the organizational logistics that make all of it easier but today we don't have that.
  • What that means is that we count on our members to make all this work. If you have an extra 10 minutes and can take the garbage out, it helps. If you would like to help with a newsletter or website, your help would be appreciated! If you would like to sort out nuts and bolts and put things away in shop, it would help! If you would like to sort LEGOs, it would make it easier for all the FIRST LEGO League teams.
  • At a minimum, it means please clean up after yourself. Don't make others' workload heavier when they may already be providing a lot of their time to make your program or your child's program successful.

Why can't I just "drop off" my child like I do at most STEM programs?

Our facilitators aren't paid to provide programs for your children. We are not a "for-profit" organization. We exist because families and people of all ages want to be part of a community full of energy and learning for all ages and background. We think the world becomes a better place if people learn and collaborate together -- to work, play, explore, learn, celebrate.

  • We exist because of people coming together. And people come together and are motivated if they see other people bringing their energy to make it happen.
  • Our basic beliefs based on our own experience and many research studies are that:
    • All ages learn more and are more excited if other people share that excitement
    • Students learn more if their parents know what they're doing and can have a discussion with them - all the way through from very young through the high school years
    • Life long learning is something essential to our society
  • But does this mean I have to be right beside my child every time?
    • No! But it does mean that you need to be in the building often enough to know what's going on. You need to know who is the responsible person you're dropping your child off with and that they agree to take that responsibility (& know how to reach you!). You need to be involved enough that you're contributing TO the Forge, not only taking from it. Other people may be providing opportunities to your child -- what are you doing to make that happen for other people?

What is "Stone Soup" and how does it relate to The Forge?

Ever hear of the children's story of Stone Soup? If The Forge Initiative provides the stone (the facilities, the structure to make it work), can members of the Forge and the community provide the rest of the ingredients to create an environment that is full of energy, innovative ideas, fun and learning? We think so!

Stone Soup happens for all sorts of things:

  • Tools in the shop that were purchased for specific projects
  • Materials for building in the shop and on the team building wall that were left over from other projects
  • Laptops -- several were donated; several were purchased by teams/programs who built extra money into their budget in order to buy a laptop for the Forge
  • LEGO's
  • littleBits, Makey MaKey's, SnapCircuits -- all part of other programs

What can I sign my child up for?

We offer nothing for you to sign your child up for. Really! But you see lots of activity! And many programs! What does this mean????

  • We have no paid facilitators who are offering programs that you can sign your child up for.
  • All of our programs, workshops, and camps are run by:
    • Parents who are either offering programs/activities their children are interested in or offering programs/activities for other people while their children/youth are learning from other people
    • Volunteers who would really like to pass their knowledge on to others -- retired engineers, stay-at-home parents, young people wanting to be involved in tech in their off-work hours, empty-nesters who want to be engaged in the energy of multiple-age learning.
    • Our Youth Empowerment HUB of 10 yo to college-age students who are gaining powerful leadership and entrepreneurship skills and who are mentored by... parents and volunteers!

This sounds hard? How do I really get involved?

Come to Open Forge with an idea of seeing what's going on.

  • Decide how you want to contribute -- do you want to bring a project to work on? Do you want to help do a workshop or project? Do you want to provide some expertise on project management or databases or spreadsheets? Do you want to contribute financially, either yourself or finding corporate sponsorship?
  • Ask! We have lots of people who can help you get involved. We want people involved! However, we can't support many people who expect services to be provided for them.

Learning at The Forge Initiative

How do I learn at The Forge? Who do I ask?

The people who you see at the Forge the most are the people who get the most out of the Forge. We have knowledge in a few areas, and often an insatiable desire to learn more - both in the areas that we have knowledge in, as well as many things we know nothing about. For better or worse, that often means that we are stretched for time.

If you have a desire to learn a particular subject - like Arduino computers or LED lights or working with GoogleDocs, put together a class. Yes, you read that right, some of the best classes are put together by the students (or any age). Find a few other people who also want to learn the subject. Send an email to the group saying that you want to learn (subject). Chances are, someone will point you at an online tutorial to get you started.

On one level, this is what parents do to their children to judge the level of interest, if they are motivated enough to start learning on their own, maybe it makes sense to dig deeper. When you come back with specific questions, there will be people who can answer them. Keep in mind that the people who may have the answer are asking their own questions - and may be being asked many questions by many people - often all at the same time. So be patient and good natured about it.

The people who get the most out of the Forge are the people who give the most to the Forge. Being a family who is frequently seen around helping others means that when you do ask for help, there will be someone happy to work with you.

What are your kids (you) learning at the Forge?

One of the most powerful aspects of the Forge is the community. Curious adults who want to learn to do new things and are willing to ask (sometimes silly) questions of anyone who is willing to listen, show younger students that we are all learning new things. Leave your ego at home and remember that the Forge has experts in many fields and subjects at ALL AGES. When you want to learn to 3D print, there are teenagers who have been doing it for several years. Teaching others how to do anything forces a person to sharpen the skill to be taught. When you come to the Forge with an attitude of excited curiosity, it is infectious. People want to help - whether they have knowledge on the subject, or a shared interest in learning that subject. Many members join the Forge wanting to learn a new skill and find that the skills they already have are things that other people at the Forge want to learn.

The answer to what your kids are learning is:

  • To be a lifelong learner.
  • To be a member of a diverse community.
  • To ask interesting questions, and pursue those answers on your own until you need help.
  • To find expert help when you get stuck on your own. That "expert help" may be another person who is trying to learn the same thing, but got stuck somewhere else on the same journey. That you may very well be someone else's "expert help" even if you don't feel like an expert.
  • That it is ok to make mistakes as long as you learn from them.
  • That you know more than you thought you did.
  • That interesting questions make for interesting discussions.
  • That excited curiosity is just as infectious as sullen disinterestedness.
  • That you get out what you put in.
  • That saying "I don't know." is much more interesting when you replace the period with a comma, a grin, and the words "let's find out!"

What is "informal" learning and how is it different than school?

The Forge focuses on "informal" learning for all ages. The biggest difference between informal learning and the more formal approach used in school is that informal learning is driven by a self-motivation to learn. Its goal is not to hit pre-set standards.

Individuals who are learning in an informal way are learning because they want to learn. And they want to learn at their own pace and in their own way. The challenge for those who mentor or facilitate informal learning is how to figure out how to support the learning without demotivating the learner.

This relationship -- the stages of learning in an informal STEAM setting -- has been defined and modeled at The Forge Initiative. The model is called "D-ELL" for the stages people (of all ages) go through in learning: Discover-Explore, Learn, Lead. For tips on how to mentor these stages of learning, check out this presentation: