Be Anything fundraiser gives kids a flavor of real life and careers

Elise Zwicky for Chronicle Media

Seven-year-old Luci Williams was thrilled to sit in Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis’s seat in council chambers last year as part of a mayor-for-a-day experience she won through the Peoria Playhouse Children’s Museum’s Be Anything event. Bidding is open now for Be Anything experiences, and a live event that will introduce kids to various careers takes place on Sept. 24. (Photo courtesy of Alissa Williams)

Seven-year-old Luci Williams wants to be president someday but in the meantime she settled for being mayor for a day.

The Morton second-grader joined Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis in council chambers and met with department heads during a tour of City Hall as part of the Peoria Playhouse Children’s Museum’s inaugural Be Anything event last year.

The event, which is also a fundraiser for the museum, returns this year from noon to 5 p.m. on Sept. 24, at the museum in Glen Oak Park. Online bidding for more than 50 on-the-job experiences, such as the mayoral one Luci won last year, will continue until midnight that night.

“The idea for this came out of a conversation about Take Your Child to Work Day and broadening it to become take someone else’s child to work day,” said Rebecca Shulman Herz, director of the Peoria Playhouse Children’s Museum.

“After all, I know my children do not want to work in a museum because they’ve gone to too many already. But my son loved it when he got to go to the Bradley science lab and hang out with a neurologist studying stem cells for the afternoon,” she added. “Not all children are lucky enough to have those connections and know the people that they would need to know to have that experience, so this event gives them that opportunity.”

Five-year-old Abbi Williams blows a whistle during her swim-coach-for-a-day experience last year as part of the Peoria Playhouse Children’s Museum’s Be Anything event, which aims to teach children about a variety of careers. (Photo courtesy of Alissa Williams)

Be Anything is one of two annual fundraising events that benefit the Playhouse Museum. The other, held in January, is called HopScotch and is geared toward adults with craft brews, signature whiskey cocktails and live music.

At the Be Anything event, children and their parents will travel through the museum, chatting with about 20 professionals who will introduce the kids to all types of careers through interactive activities.

Last year’s event raised about $10,000, but the goal has increased to $25,000 this year with more sponsorships, Herz said.

“We’re keeping ticket prices very low so people can participate. Tickets are only only $10 per person per member and $15 per non-member,” she added. There’s a $40 maximum cost per member family and a $50 maximum cost per non-member family. A family is defined as up to two adults in one household and any children living in that household.

The event is designed for children ages 3 to 14, although older teens may bid on some of the on-the-job experiences, Herz said. The event will also feature food trucks, a photo booth and raffles.

Among the presenters at the live event will be a naturalist, artist, an EMT, dancer, nurse, logistician, police officer, biologist, architect, firefighter and landscape architect.

Interactive activities will include a police officer who will teach kids about fingerprinting and a software coder who will print icing on a sugar cookie using a 3D printer.

Luci Williams and her 5-year-old sister, Abbi, are already mulling over which of the more than 50 on-the-job experiences they’d like to bid on this year. As the director of the Morton Public Library, Alissa Williams is also offering an on-the-job “Be a Librarian” experience this year.

Other job experiences kids can bid on include zoologist, paleontologist, symphony conductor, golf coach, Zamboni driver, meteorologist, newspaper reporter, hair stylist, coffee barista, chef, bridge inspector and life flight nurse.

Bradley University professor Sherri Morris used soil samples to talk about her job as a biologist to children and their parents at last year’s Be Anything event at the Peoria Playhouse Children’s Museum. About 20 professionals will offer interactive exhibits about their careers at this year’s event on Sept. 24, and the public can bid on more than 50 on-the-job experiences for their children. (Photo courtesy of the Peoria Playhouse Children’s Museum)

A complete list of the experiences and instructions on how to bid can be viewed by clicking the Be Anything link at the website

“I was not surprised at the response from professionals. I think people like showing others what they do, and they don’t often get that much of an opportunity. It’s also kind of fun to see your career through the eyes of a kid for whom this is all new and super exciting,” Herz said.

For her experience as mayor for a day, Luci Williams spent about 90 minutes at Peoria City Hall. Her younger sister, Abbi, spent about the same amount of time as an honorary swim coach at Peoria Notre Dame High School.

Luci said she liked “sitting in the council chambers and getting a cookie,” while Abbi said she liked “blowing the whistle and telling the big girls what to do.”

Alissa Williams said she spent about $80 on each experience, although Herz said the bidding can sometimes go as high as $300 or more.

“We did also take three of these experiences so far and gave them to low-income families through the Playhouse’s explorer program free of charge,” Herz said.

Low-income families with a Link or WIC card can get an annual membership for just $10 or can visit the Playhouse three times at no cost.

“As they bid, I hope people will keep in mind that not only are they getting a phenomenal experience for their child, but they’re really supporting all the work the Playhouse does in helping all kids become explorers and creators of the world,” Herz added.

Tickets for the Be Anything event can be purchased online at or in person at the Playhouse at 2218 N. Prospect in Peoria.

Tickets will be sold at the door unless the event sells out. Anyone interested in volunteering at the event should send an email to

–Be Anything fundraiser gives kids a flavor of real life and careers–