Bronx Children’s Museum president receives AARP Purpose Prize

Bronx Children’s Museum President Hope Harley received the AARP Purpose Prize.
Courtesy of Elias Williams

Founded in 2005, the Bronx Children’s Museum is the borough’s only cultural and educational institution designed for children. Known as a “museum without walls,” it holds events at schools, libraries and mobile programming.

On Oct. 20, its co-founder and President of the Board of Directors Hope Harley, was named a winner of the AARP Purpose Prize, the only national award that celebrates people over 50 who are creating social change.

Selected from a pool of more than 1,200 applicants, Harley is one of only five winners being honored for the mission-focused work of the organizations they lead. Each winner’s nonprofit received $50,000.

“There wouldn’t be an award if it wasn’t for the kind of success the Children’s Museum has had,” Harley said. “It’s really an honor for the museum and the Bronx.”

In late 2021, the museum will finally have a permanent space at the Powerhouse facility, an old city-owned, decommissioned powerhouse built originally in 1925. It is located on public park land on Mill Pond Park on the Harlem River in the south Bronx just steps from Yankee Stadium.

Alongside the Purpose Prize winners and fellows, AARP is presenting Golden Globe award-winning actor and activist Glenn Close with an honorary Purpose Prize Award for her work with Bring Change to Mind, a charity dedicated to confronting, head-on, the stigma associated with mental illness.

The honorees will be recognized at a virtual awards celebration on Dec. 3.

Harley, 69, was born and raised in Brooklyn and moved to Riverdale in the late 80s. She resided there until 2005 when she moved to New Jersey.

She grew up near the Brooklyn Children’s Museum and fell in love with it as a kid. She recalled as an only child it was one of the few places her parents allowed her to go on her own.

Harley held senior positions at Verizon for over 28 years in sales and marketing, engineering and external affairs. During this time she got to see how beautiful the Bronx is.

She soon realized the Bronx was the only borough without a children’s museum. So after meeting with her now colleagues, they visited the other museums and began to get ideas on how to shape and operate theirs.

“We were not experienced in creating a museum,” she recalled. “I really thought it was a travesty that children of the Bronx did not have a place they could call their own.”

She recalled that starting out 15 years ago was no walk in the park They had to raise money and convince people to donate to a cause where she and her colleagues had no proven track record of running a museum.

But over time, the museum became known along with its purple bus that traveled to various places holding programs.

“I say other than my own children this is certainly the thing I take the most pride in,” she said. “It’s going to be here long after I’m gone.”

She told the Bronx Times she was “stunned” to receive such a prestigious honor. Harley explained that COVID-19 had affected them like many organizations, so the money will help them stay afloat until they open their facility next year.

In August, Harley discovered she was a semi-finalist and last month learned she was named a winner.

“They said $50K — honestly I think my mind shut down at that point,” she recalled. “It took me a few days to actually process it.”

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