Walk into the executive director’s office of ImagineU Children’s Museum and the first thing you will be greeted by is a rather large painting of a cuddly giraffe and dog riding together in a bright red Volkswagen beetle. The next thing you notice are the life-affirming slogans such as “Be Kind,” “Be Honest,” “Be Silly” and ”Never Stop Dreaming” lining the tabletop and walls.

That is exactly how this director, Katy Young, likes her office and her life and, to that end, she goes to great lengths to ensure that both are filled with passion, joy and a dash of fun thrown into the mix.

“I admit that I may have a bit of a Pollyanna-‘ish’ perspective on life,” Young said with a smile. “Yet one thing I have learned over the years is that you can choose to be happy or not, and so I choose happiness, and I try to make a positive difference in the lives of those around me. One of the ways I remind myself to keep happiness alive in my own life is by surrounding myself with the things I love and those things that I strive to be.”

Hence the busy, colorful office of a woman whose job is to help bring joy to children and parents through shared activity and discovery.

Born in Reedley, Young moved to Visalia at an early age and attended Willow Glen Elementary School, Green Acres Middle School and Redwood High School. Her parents owned EMI, and she fondly remembers going to the business after school with her younger brother, Wyatt, while watching her parents strive to keep the business growing and their customers happy. She attributes her own drive, strong work ethic and self-confidence in adulthood to those early years spent observing her parents in their shop.

“My parents are the best. They taught my brother and me to work hard, but to also have fun doing it. And for me having a sense of fun infused in your life is vital to make it feel meaningful,” said Young.

After graduating in 1999 from Fresno State with a degree in liberal studies, Young held a variety of jobs, including real estate agent, substitute teacher and, until recently, at the International Agri-Center in Tulare, where she was in charge of show operations for World Ag  Expo. But despite the interesting and demanding jobs she’s held, for Young, the most important thing in her life is her family.

“I’ve been married to Brice for almost 18 years. We met on a blind date, and we went to a Thai food restaurant that night. We have been together pretty much ever since,” Young said. These days, they are a family of four, with son Andrew joining the family 14 years ago and daughter Elizabeth a little over a year later.

“My family is my favorite part of my life. Elizabeth often comes to ImagineU and she volunteers. She loves to engage with the kids and the exhibits during our day camps, and both Andrew and Elizabeth helped with our 2018 gala fundraiser. I am grateful to be in a position in which my kids can learn and grow while being a part of my work life, much like my brother and I were at the foundry. I think helping out instills some positive attributes in my children.”

With all the artistry required of a museum geared to children, I asked Young about how she honed her art skills.

“Me? I am a horrific artist, but very much a believer in a team concept. Here at ImagineU, you can’t accomplish all that needs to be done without a magnificent team, so you hire and work with individuals who are good at their jobs and you let them shine. You find their strengths, and you let them use their talents to fulfill their passions and when they do, you get this … a place that is fun, educational and a great resource for the entire family. Finding great people, being a good planner and ensuring that the pieces fit and work together are probably my greatest strengths.”

With summer right around the corner, Young and the staff at ImagineU are gearing up for seven weeks of day camp. As a working mom, she is proud of the resources and programs that the organization offers parents, and the learning opportunities that the themed camps provide local children ages 5 to 11. Young is most proud of the fact that the camp schedule correlates to most parents’ working hours.

For Young, making an impact on the community and teaming up with other nonprofits to ensure that there is something at the museum for every child is of primary importance. And since the mission of ImagineU is to “Empower and Inspire,” she believes that it is her job to make sure that every child walks away from the museum feeling better about themselves and full of self-confidence in order to feel that they are equipped to tackle the world.   

“I love that ImagineU can make an impact on the community and that I am able to do so too as a result of the work that the staff and I are able to do. I like to think that maybe we can influence the future mechanics and architects of the area as a result of what they experience here. We just never know what will catch a child’s fancy and influence their future. Just imagining the possibilities that await all of our visitors is just one of the many fun parts of my position.”

While this is Young’s first foray into running a museum, she couldn’t be happier with her job, the people she works with, and the daily opportunities to watch kids learn and play while she sneaks in a little fun herself.

“If you had told me I would have ended up running a children’s museum like ImagineU, I would have probably chuckled a bit,” said Young, chuckling herself. “Yet I am so glad that I am here. Now I really can’t imagine doing anything else because where else could I have so much fun and learn right along with the kids at the same time? Frankly, there is no place else I would rather be.”