Going totally buggy amidst the sounds of playful parents, with kids, ages 1 to 5, Patrick Milburn, a long-time Wonder Works Children’s Museum nature and science volunteer, is cupping a Giant Madagascar Hissing Cockroach in the palm of his hand, waiting patiently for his next one-on-one with a young museum patron.
Milburn, a 25-year-old man living with a developmental disability says Bugs in Fall is his favorite science and nature program. Beyond this volunteer gig at the museum, Milburn works part-time for pay at FFC (Fitness Formula Clubs), folding towels and cleaning up and at the River Forest Community Center where he also helps keep the building clean. On Fridays, he rides his bike to the museum, and parks right out front, he says.
“I do like helping Mr. Eric show the cockroach to the kids,” Milburn says. “I tell them to pet it with one finger on its back. I do not let them hold it in their hands, because if the cockroach falls on the ground, and if they do not know it is on the ground, they could accidently squish it.”
So, from 10 a.m. to noon most Fridays, Milburn will be working with bugs, doing transportation education facilitated by a Hot Wheels track or model train set, or showing kids backyard rocks. Eric Gyllenhaal, a museum educator, says his protégé is always looking up at the clock at 11:30 a.m., saying “time flies when you are having fun.”
Milburn regularly helps Gyllenhaal set up his themed exploration station, as well as break it down and clean it all up, but “we can always find something fun for Patrick to do”, says Gyllenhaal.
These “bug men” put on this program four times a year, with learning activities that combine science or nature play with art.
“Patrick can work the microscope and at the same time he can use his other hand to hold the Giant Madagascar Hissing Cockroach, and that really helps me out,” says Gyllenhaal.
David Hoambrecker, director of operations at Wonder Works, says the museum has a long history of partnering with organizations that serve special needs populations.
“It is not so much that we search out working with this population. It is that we are completely open to it,” Hoambrecker said. “And that’s why we have such a good, long term relationship with those organizations, plus have such great volunteers like Patrick,”
Meanwhile, the mealworm is trying to slide out of its dish again… and without missing a beat, Patrick rescues the worm, saving its day. Another time a cockroach tried to crawl up under his shirt sleeve, which did not bother him, he admits.
“At the end of the day, Patrick will often ask me if he can take a cockroach home,” Gyllenhaal says. “We always tell people that these are Rain Forest Cockroaches, so they don’t live in our houses. And they are not going to live long outside of their container. But, I always tell Patrick, that is not really true. They could hold up in his basement pretty well, and I say, I do not know if your mom will like that.”