Superhero-Inspired Support of Unstructured Play in San Diego

Meet the U.S. Banker helping to make community possible with The New Children’s Museum and across the nation.
Nov 7, 2022 10:00 AM ET

Originally published on U.S. Bank company blog

In 1941, as the U.S. entered the second World War a wonder woman emerged to demonstrate that advocating for others is a responsibility, telling the truth is a superpower, and no matter how grim circumstances may seem, there is always much good in humanity that is worth fighting for and protecting.

This character of a brave and bold fearless female advocate who is capable of accomplishing superhuman feats to help make a difference in the lives of others has had a lasting impact on Erica Opstad, senior vice president and head of community affairs and managing director of the U.S. Bank Foundation.

In 2022, Erica and her team structured one of the largest community benefits plans in U.S. history, but it is in the unstructured that Erica finds her inspiration. Her work is energized by an abiding love for unstructured play and the creativity and empathy that can bloom from it.

As one of the three main pillars of the U.S. Bank Community Possible platform, Play, is a quality which brings joy and vibrancy to communities, but in low-income areas there are often limited spaces for play and fewer people attending arts and cultural events. That’s why Erica and her team look for opportunities to invest in community programming that allows children and adults to play and create.

In Erica’s hometown of San Diego, one organization specifically, The New Children’s Museum, has captured the hearts and minds of the Opstad family, including Erica’s son, Blake, and her husband, Keith, an award-winning artist and art educator who is also an appointed commissioner for the City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture. The museum’s motto is “Think, Play, Create,” and Erica is a part of the museums board of directors, while the entire Opstad family are longtime supporters and fans.

In 2022, under the guidance of San Diego Community Affairs Manager Rockette Ewell, the U.S. Bank Foundation awarded The New Children’s Museum a three-year. $105,000 grant to help fund visits to the Museum through a wide array of access programs, including:

  • Summer Camps: U.S. Bank will fund 12 camp scholarships each year for three years, allowing children from low-income families to attend the Museum’s week-long arts-based day camps.
  • Social Service Organization Visits: Children and families utilizing San Diego social service organizations serving children coping with abuse, homelessness, domestic violence, illness, and disabilities are part of a program that includes group visits, special workshops, free admission and other programming, including Mass Creativity Day, a free annual festival which celebrates these partnerships at the Museum.
  • Museums for All: This program allows families receiving federal assistance through Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, aka food stamps) and Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) programs admission to the Museum for just $2/person and the ability to purchase annual memberships for $40. 
  • Title I School Visits: Title I is a federal education program that supports low-income students, as determined by the number of students who qualify for free or reduced lunch. Through the Museum’s access programs, students from Title I schools come for field trips at no cost to them.
  • Accessibility Mornings: Free access for families in need of a sensory-friendly experience.
  • Discover & Go Library Program: Offers San Diego Public Library cardholders a free pass to visit the museum.
  • Military: The Museum provides active-duty military and their families free admission from Armed Forces Day through Labor Day through the national Blue Star Museums program. The Museum also provides discounted military admission the remainder of the year.

In addition to funding access programs, U.S. Bank employees, like Erica and Rockette, volunteer at the Museum regularly. Recent activity includes a large group participating in Mass Creativity Day, the Museum’s long-running community engagement program, in partnership with multiple community-based organizations throughout the county.

Learn more about the support of U.S. Bank Foundation in this news segment, or hear more from Erica and Keith about their personal support of the museum via StoryCorps.

Learn more about U.S. Bank here