On October 8, 2016, Hurricane Matthew devastated Robeson County, NC. Homes, businesses, and schools were destroyed when the Lumber River crested at 24.39 feet, ELEVEN feet above flood level! Interstate 95 was closed between exits 20 and 31 for a week, and many roads in the area were closed for months. With nowhere to live and no job to go to, thousands of people were displaced. Flooding was so bad that an international science show, Mystery Doug, pictured the offices of the Robeson County School Board in one of its presentations.
Then, just as the area was starting to recover, on September 14, 2018, Hurricane Florence created more devastation. The Lumber River crested at 25.4 feet, even higher than it had under Hurricane Matthew. Two million gallons of sewage flooded the area and 75% of customers lost power. Interstate 95 was again closed, this time for 60 miles for seven days.
Today, many people are still displaced and the scars are still evident everywhere. The Public Schools of Robeson County have opened most of their schools, but there are some that will never reopen. The administrative offices are housed in temporary quarters, and an icon of the county, the Robeson Planetarium and Science Center, is unusable. An inflatable planetarium is currently being used, but it just isn’t the same, partly because only about 3,000 students are able to visit the inflatable planetarium; about 40% of the students who were able to attend brick-and-mortar space.
Robeson County has a diverse population: 38% Native American, 31% Caucasion, 25% African American, and 5% Hispanic. The per capita income is less than $18,000, and a quarter of all citizens live in poverty. The average household income is only around $33,700, and the opportunities for extracurricular activities for the students are minimal.
The Robeson Planetarium and Science Center has worked for almost 50 years to open the eyes of children to the wonders of science in the universe. Hosting 8,000 school children a year (prior to Hurricane Matthew), the Robeson Planetarium and Science Center is free to all families in the area. As a part of the Public Schools of Robeson County system, students at several grade levels visit annually. Many adults talk fondly of their trips to the Planetarium when they were kids. Astronauts Bill McArthur and Curtis Brown, three of the Mars One Candidates (Oscar Matthews, Dan Carey, and Leila Zucker), and Bill Nye the Science Guy are just some of the people who have helped to introduce students of all ages to the fantastic vision of the night sky and the excitement of space exploration.
In addition to showing off the heavens to the school children, the Robeson Planetarium and Science Center has allowed students to find and keep some of the natural wonders of our state. North Carolina has a greater variety of minerals than any other state. The mirror of the Hubble Telescope is made of North Carolina quartz because of the incredible quality of the quartz (and other minerals) here. After students found a selection of minerals in the Science Center’s flume, students used their knowledge to identify the minerals found. Then the students kept the minerals (quartz, garnet, emerald, petrified wood, and more) that they had found. The planetarium has given away minerals worth over $10,000 so far.
We’d like to count on you to help us rebuild this unique facility for deserving students. Would you consider donating to the rebuilding of the Robeson County Planetarium and Science Center. Would you share this appeal with others? We will gladly accept any donations.