There are things everyone knows about Bill and Melinda Gates – he co-founded Microsoft, they live in a house on Lake Washington, they’re billionaires – but what about the world-renowned Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation? If you haven’t been to the Foundation’s Visitor Center, we highly recommend taking the whole family for lessons on giving back and helping. We arrived curious and left inspired.
Parking couldn’t be easier, once you make it through the madness and mess of Mercer Street. The Seattle Center garage next door to the Visitor Center has entrances on Harrison Street and Republican Street, just east of 5th Avenue N. Parking isn’t cheap, but the Visitor Center is free, so we figure it all balances out.
If you’re in need of a coffee before you dive into all the learning and exploring (and as sleep deprived parents, who isn’t?), stop at The Seattle Grind next door to the Visitor Center for a caffeinated beverage and pastries.
The Visitor Center is beautifully and brilliantly designed. Highly interactive, the exhibits are not only informative but incredibly interesting as well. We honestly didn’t expect to spend so much time there. We found ourselves totally engrossed in every station and display.
Begin your journey in the small theater area behind the information desk. A short video introduces you to the purpose and the goals of the Foundation. Basically, they are doing their best to make the world a better place. Bill and Melinda speak about their passions to create opportunity for everyone and their belief that every person in the world deserves a chance to live a healthy and productive life.
Next, you’ll want to move on to the collection of large screens behind you, known as “Voices”. Swipe your finger across the screen to hear stories from people around the world who are involved with the Foundation – beneficiaries, grantees and the Gateses talk about making a difference, working for the greater good and the importance of kindness.
Through the entryway, you’ll find the Family and Foundation gallery. We loved the “Where They Work” display. A giant screen on the floor shows where in the world the foundation is working, and changes the information when you spin the globe next to it. There are also displays on what the foundation is doing in the U.S. and in Washington state. The best feature is the timeline wall where you can follow the Gates family history of giving back by turning the wooden panels on the wall. Kids can put their minds to work at the “What Would Your Foundation Do?” station. Type your response into the keyboard and watch it pop up on the giant screen above you, where it will rotate with others’ ideas.
The next gallery is all about partnerships between the Gates Foundation and other organizations which are teaming up to solve big-world problems like hunger, poverty, sanitation and health. You will also have another chance to share your opinions at the “Global Conversations” station. The Foundation wants to hear your perspective on topics like climate change, vaccines and biotechnology and will display it on video screens for everyone to see.
We had a great time checking out the “How Do We Tackle the Mosquito?” exhibit, chronicling how one tiny insect causes four major diseases. Younger kids will love checking out specimens under a microscope, while older kids and adults learn about how the Foundation is combatting diseases like the Zika virus and malaria.
If you have the time, we suggest taking a seat in the theater for a few films, including “Reinvent the Toilet,” “Follow a Bag of Maize” and “Saving Mothers’ Lives.” Films are shown at the top and the bottom of every hour.
The final gallery, “Innovation and Inspiration,” is the most interactive, and kids will have a blast here, putting everything they just learned to good use and exercising their minds and creativity. It’s all about what you can do, how you can help and where to start. You can design a poster that is beautiful and meaningful to inspire others, create an ad campaign to bring awareness to topics like world hunger or the need for clean water, or build an invention that can solve a real world problem with blocks, tiles, pipe cleaners and other provided craft supplies. Don’t leave this gallery without taking your picture and letting everyone know what inspired you.
While the Visitor’s Center is probably best for middle school aged kids and older, there are plenty of interactive exhibits younger kids will enjoy. They even get preschoolers and kindergarten classes that visit to learn about the importance of kindness. If you bring your toddler or elementary aged child, there is a long bench along the windows that has kids’ books from around the globe. From the classic tale of The Giving Tree to an informative tale about the benefits of Nasty Worms, it's a great way for younger ones to learn about bigger issues.
If you arrive at the Visitor Center around 10 or 11 a.m., you will miss most of the morning commuter traffic and finish in time for lunch at the Armory across the street at the Seattle Center. The Armory is a great option for families because there is a little something for everyone, including Skillet Counter, Starbucks, Eltana Bagels, MOD pizza and more.
Kids and adults will leave the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Visitor Center inspired to change the world. We definitely did.
If You Go:
Where: 440 5th Ave. N., Seattle
When: Tuesday – Saturday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.