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WCM's Ruby Slipper Picnic marks one-year anniversary of tornado

Date: 5/21/2012

May 21, 2012

By Chris Maza

WILBRAHAM — In "The Wizard of Oz," all it took was three clicks of the heels of Dorothy's ruby slippers to reverse the events that turned her reality upside down.

For the volunteers at the Wilbraham Children's Museum (WCM), it wasn't that simple.

The WCM, located at 678 Main St., was one of the many places in the community hit hard by the June 1, 2011 tornado, sustaining some structural damage, but even more to its outdoor equipment, which was almost completely wiped out.

Now, thanks in large part to the work of volunteers and generous donations, the WCM has fully recovered and is ready to help out children who may still be struggling after the literal and figurative whirlwind that in some cases changed their lives.

The WCM will mark the one-year anniversary of the day the tornado ripped through the Pioneer Valley with the Ruby Slipper and Sneaker Family Picnic, an event aimed at putting a positive spin on weather and disaster recovery for children ages 5 and younger.

The picnic will take place on June 1 from 4 to 7 p.m. at the WCM playground.

"Some children have had trouble dealing with weather since the tornado and we thought we should use that day as something more positive," Jennifer Farrell Powell, president of the WCM told Reminder Publications. "We're going to celebrate the fact that we're not sitting in basements in the dark and show what a difference a year can make."

Powell explained that many children in the community were deeply affected not only by the tornado itself, but the effects it had on their loved ones.

"Children see everything and are very aware when something is wrong," Powell said. "Mostly they don't understand why mommy is so scared or why daddy is so scared. They also could pick up on when people would talk about the tornado in the days that followed and stories they told."

Powell said the picnic's focus would be on the positive with a host of events and activities for the children such as making their own ruby slippers or sneakers out of old shoes and learning to whistle and dance to "Singin' in the Rain," in addition to balloons and face painting.

Children will also get the opportunity to decorate a birdhouse for feathered neighbors whose homes were destroyed in the tornado.

"The property next to ours is dramatically damaged and not much has been done to it. There are still a lot of trees down and it's a reminder of the tornado," Powell said. "After the kids decorate the birdhouses, the adults are going to go put them at the perimeter of the property so the birds that once lived in those trees will have a place to live."

In addition to commemorating the tornado, the picnic will be an opportunity to celebrate the WCM's 30th anniversary with a giant rainbow cake.

Powell said that putting the two milestones together seemed appropriate because the community's response in aiding the WCM reflected the support that has made it so successful for three decades. A plaque will be dedicated to all who helped in the WCM's recovery.

"The day of the tornado was my first day living in Wilbraham after moving from Texas, so I really didn't know what the town looked like before the tornado," Powell said. "But the way this town came together and helped us and helped each other is something that should be celebrated. It was a great reflection of this community and its support for each other."

The event is free of charge and participants are asked to bring their own food, however, picnic snacks will be provided with a donation to the WCM.

For more information, contact Powell at or call the WCM at 596-2472.

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