Sue Reese of Goodwill in Wilmington Turns Her Life Around

It’s a Great Day at Goodwill: Goodwill’s Sue Reese struggled through some serious trouble before she finally found success.



The front desk at Wilmington’s Goodwill Center can be as chaotic as a deli counter at noon. Yet receptionist Sue Reese is unflappable. With a line of impatient visitors waiting for attention, deliveries arriving and telephone lines blinking, Reese picks up the receiver with a smile, “It’s a great day at Goodwill,”  she begins.

Since 2010, Reese, 44, a graduate of Goodwill’s computerized office skills training program, has been the first voice callers hear and the first person to greet them when they open the front door.

“Sue has a lot patience,” says friend and co-worker Kimatha Fleck, human resources specialist at Goodwill. “She has never had a complaint (from the public)—not one.” And Reese has handled some potentially volatile situations, says Fleck. “She took it in stride and it didn’t turn her day around. She’s great.”

But Reese wasn’t always so easygoing and organized. Behind her are years of emotional conflict, depression and substance abuse—things you would never suspect, says Fleck.

Only this past spring did Reese tell her life-changing story publicly for the first time, when she was named the 2011 Achiever of the Year for Goodwill of Delaware and Delaware County. The award is given annually to a graduate of a Goodwill training program who has overcome tremendous obstacles to attain success.

As far back as high school, Reese had problems. “I was a lot of trouble for my mom,” she says. “I was always getting in trouble with the police. I’d have fights with girls in school—I was suspended for that. I struggled through school with grades and friendships. I had friends, but I would switch friends. I pretty much had ups and downs a lot. I would be up—going, going, going—and then my down time, when I just wouldn’t do anything.”

Her mother worried, nagged and prayed. Even her grandmother knew something was amiss. “She has said a lot of times that I didn’t make sense. One minute I’d be fine and the other I’d be screaming and yelling,” Reese says.

She spent her senior year at Brandywine High pregnant with her first son and working two jobs: one in an insurance office mail room during the day; and the other at a grocery store cash register at night. Unsure if she would be able to finish the school year, she chose the co-op education track with only two classes in the morning and the afternoon free for work.

Married in her teens, then divorced at age 20, Reese changed jobs and friends multiple times and sought relief for depression through drugs and alcohol. “I couldn’t focus, I was disorganized,” she says, adding that she had no trouble getting jobs. “I’d hold them down for a year, and then I would be on to something else.

“My family and friends would tell me I needed to see a doctor, but I just thought, ‘they’re wrong, they’re crazy, it’s not me, it’s them.’”

She became pregnant with her second son in 2004. It was a breech delivery, and Reese was left with severe postpartum depression. “I would lie on the couch and not get up—just do the bare necessities that the baby needed,” she says. Still, she didn’t seek help.

Reese was working as an executive secretary and had just bought a house. One day, she left her job and never returned. “I never called,” she says. “Today, I [wonder] ‘what was I thinking?’ I don’t understand my train of thought then.”

Bills came and she would discard them. Eventually, her utilities were cut off. For a time, her mother paid the mortgage. When the baby was 6 months old, Reese’s mother took her children.

Reese lost her house and drifted from friend to friend, feeling sick, unmotivated, and missing her sons. It was hard to stay in touch without a phone. “I felt like they were orphans, and the baby practically didn’t know who I was,” she says. Her mother refused to take her in.

Now Reese says that that was the best thing, “I was overly dependent on my mom,” she says. “I’d fall back on her all the time.

“Finally, I thought, ‘maybe it is me,’” she says. Distraught and suicidal, she checked into the Rockford Center, a residential mental health rehabilitation facility, where she was diagnosed as bipolar and suffering postpartum depression. Through medication and counseling over the following weeks, she put aside her addictions and began to get her life back together.

She moved in with her mother and stepfather and started helping her mom around the house, trying to keep busy so she wouldn’t be tempted to return to her former addictions. “It was a struggle to get through,” she admits, but she was determined not to go back.

When a counselor at the state labor department’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation referred her to Goodwill for training, she was surprised. “I thought Goodwill was just a store,” she says.

For most people, Goodwill is just a store. The Wilmington center oversees 17 retail outlets in Delaware and Delaware County, Pa., where donated items are sold to the public at bargain prices. But, like Goodwills across the country, the local center offers job skills training and networks with potential employers.

Reese enrolled in a 17-week computer training program. Instructor Kristin Strouss-Peyton remembers her as a “very shy,” quiet student. Reese hardly talked and rarely looked up. But, “she was very motivated and she did very well in class,” Strouss-Peyton says. “I don’t think I had a doubt that she would succeed, but I thought it would be a long road.”

Reese hadn’t worked in nearly five years, her skills needed updating, and she was still questioning whether she had made the right choice. “I didn’t feel I was ready for a job yet,” she says. “Because of my age, I was surprised I did so well. By the end of the class I was able to believe in myself more.”

Sharing a home with her parents and her mentally challenged brother, she worked on staying clear of her former dependencies and tried to be a mother to her children. Her relationship with her older son had deteriorated during the years before she sought help, and she is still working to rebuild it, she says.

As part of the course, Reese interned at the front desk under Fleck’s supervision. After a couple of days, getting to know Fleck and feeling more comfortable, “she opened up,” Fleck says. Because of her good computer skills, staff were soon asking her to do jobs for them. And, from then on, if someone was needed to cover the reception desk, she was the first choice.

When the receptionist position opened up, it was no surprise that everyone was hoping it would go to Reese. “She’s awesome,” says Strouss-Peyton. “Listening to her answer the phone and say, ‘It’s a great day at Goodwill,’—the sunshine in her voice is just incredible. It’s so inviting.” Reese has been proactive in her job, assuming more responsibilities and creating aids that make it easier for others to take over when she’s absent.

Reese’s achievement award came in the wake of losing her mother to cancer. “She was the force behind me,” Reese says. Her mother offered encouragement and drove her to and from training sessions every day. Her mother knew about the award before she passed in April, several weeks before the ceremony. It was difficult for Reese, but, she says, “Goodwill was there for me.”

Reese’s acceptance speech and the short video Goodwill produced about her life brought some in the audience of 600 close to tears. A few individuals thanked her afterward for giving them hope for family members with similar challenges.

“I didn’t think I would be that much of an inspiration,” Reese admits. “I still feel a little uncomfortable telling people, but if it helps someone, I feel better about it.”

Lisa Hartsky, Reese’s counselor at the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, who attended the award ceremony and was interviewed for the video, attributes Reese’s success to her strong desire to change.

“You’ve got to want it and you’ve got to be motivated,” she says. And Reese “got the support she needed to make it happen. I’m proud of her achievement.”

For someone who has had many dark days, the sunshine in Reese’s phone greeting comes naturally. “I’m happy to come to work,” she says. “I love working here at Goodwill. I watch people come through and I feel really good that we help them.”

And whether visitors to the Goodwill Center are aware or not, Reese is proof that, with motivation, the right help can change a life.

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February 2016

Delaware State University will feature the following events and exhibitions during its 2016 Black History Month celebration: Wednesday, Feb. 3 Black Lives Matter Symposium Documentary...

Cost: FREE and open to the public

Where:
Delaware State University
1200 N DuPont Highway
Dover, DE  19901
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Cost: Free

Where:
First State Heritage Park
121 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd N
43 The Green
Dover, DE  19901
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Sponsor: First State Heritage Park
Telephone: 302-739-9194
Contact Name: Sarah Zimmerman
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The Station Gallery
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Greenville, DE  19807
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Hagley Museum
201 Hagley Creek Rd
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Penn Museum
3260 South St.
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Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
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Kennett Township Building
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The Station Gallery
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Delaware State University will feature the following events and exhibitions during its 2016 Black History Month celebration: Wednesday, Feb. 3 Black Lives Matter Symposium Documentary...

Cost: FREE and open to the public

Where:
Delaware State University
1200 N DuPont Highway
Dover, DE  19901
View map »

More information

Explore some of the diverse ways that human beings have understood sex and sexuality, gender and gender diversity in this small but broad new exhibition, presented in conjunction with the 2015-2016...

Cost: Free with Museum Admission.

Where:
Penn Museum
3260 South St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
View map »


Website »

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Two-hour guided tours are offered at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Guests will visit Eleutherian Mills Residence, the first du Pont family home built in America; the First Office...

Cost: $0-14

Where:
Hagley Museum
201 Hagley Creek Rd
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Where:
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Delaware State University will feature the following events and exhibitions during its 2016 Black History Month celebration: Wednesday, Feb. 3 Black Lives Matter Symposium Documentary...

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Where:
Delaware State University
1200 N DuPont Highway
Dover, DE  19901
View map »

More information

Our Winter Group Show features oil paintings by Rosemary Castiglioni, Jim Gears and Mary Ann Weselyk. Still-life paintings with subtle color variations by...

Cost: Free

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The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


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Cost: Call for information.

Where:
Nanticoke Memorial Hospital
801 Middleford Road
Seaford, DE  19973
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Telephone: 302-629-6611x2446
Contact Name: Nanticoke's Diabetes Education Department
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Explore some of the diverse ways that human beings have understood sex and sexuality, gender and gender diversity in this small but broad new exhibition, presented in conjunction with the 2015-2016...

Cost: Free with Museum Admission.

Where:
Penn Museum
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Hagley Museum
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Cost: Depends on what you purchase

Where:
East Coast Garden Center
30336 Cordrey Rd
Millsboro, DE  19966
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Sponsor: Garden Center
Telephone: 302-945-3489
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Cost: $10

Where:
Red Clay Creek Presbyterian Church
500 McKennans Church Rd
Room 206
Wilmington, DE  19808
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Join us every Tuesday for this fun and educational enrichment activity. Students will learn to draw pictures from a variety of themes, including woodland animals, creatures by the sea, creepy...

Cost: $10

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Red Clay Creek Presbyterian Church
500 McKennans Church Rd
Room 206
Wilmington, DE  19808
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Participants must be at least 18 years old to register and be able to attend all sessions. For more information, contact Terry Towne, RN, at 744-6724, or teresa_towne@bayhealth.org...

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Bayhealth Kent General
4th-Floor Conference Room
640 S. State St.
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, DE

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Our Winter Group Show features oil paintings by Rosemary Castiglioni, Jim Gears and Mary Ann Weselyk. Still-life paintings with subtle color variations by...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Delaware State University will feature the following events and exhibitions during its 2016 Black History Month celebration: Wednesday, Feb. 3 Black Lives Matter Symposium Documentary...

Cost: FREE and open to the public

Where:
Delaware State University
1200 N DuPont Highway
Dover, DE  19901
View map »

More information

Explore some of the diverse ways that human beings have understood sex and sexuality, gender and gender diversity in this small but broad new exhibition, presented in conjunction with the 2015-2016...

Cost: Free with Museum Admission.

Where:
Penn Museum
3260 South St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
View map »


Website »

More information

Two-hour guided tours are offered at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Guests will visit Eleutherian Mills Residence, the first du Pont family home built in America; the First Office...

Cost: $0-14

Where:
Hagley Museum
201 Hagley Creek Rd
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-658-2400
Contact Name: Meg Marcozzi
Website »

More information

For more information, please contact: Dave Ruffner ​Rehoboth Beach Film Society 107 Truitt Ave. Rehoboth Beach, DE 19971 302-645-9095, ext. 4 administrator@rehobothfilm.com...

Cost: Free

Where:
, DE


Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
Website »

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Cost: Free

Where:
Kimmel Center - Commonwealth Plaza
300 S. Broad St.
Philadelphia, PA  19102
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Sponsor: Kimmel Center
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A successful writer of Broadway thrillers is struggling to overcome a dry spell when he receives a script from a student —a potential Broadway hit. Thereafter suspense...

Where:
, DE

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, DE

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Where:
, DE

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Delaware State University will feature the following events and exhibitions during its 2016 Black History Month celebration: Wednesday, Feb. 3 Black Lives Matter Symposium Documentary...

Cost: FREE and open to the public

Where:
Delaware State University
1200 N DuPont Highway
Dover, DE  19901
View map »

More information

Our Winter Group Show features oil paintings by Rosemary Castiglioni, Jim Gears and Mary Ann Weselyk. Still-life paintings with subtle color variations by...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Explore some of the diverse ways that human beings have understood sex and sexuality, gender and gender diversity in this small but broad new exhibition, presented in conjunction with the 2015-2016...

Cost: Free with Museum Admission.

Where:
Penn Museum
3260 South St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
View map »


Website »

More information

Two-hour guided tours are offered at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Guests will visit Eleutherian Mills Residence, the first du Pont family home built in America; the First Office...

Cost: $0-14

Where:
Hagley Museum
201 Hagley Creek Rd
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-658-2400
Contact Name: Meg Marcozzi
Website »

More information

This art exhibit features fine art works and three dimensional pieces that embrace the subject “red.” Artist are free to use their imagination and creativity, so works will include...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Gibby Center for the Arts
51 W Main St.
Middletown, DE  19709
View map »


Sponsor: The Gibby Center for the Arts
Telephone: 302-449-5396
Contact Name: Caroline Zeitler
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For more information, please contact: Dave Ruffner ​Rehoboth Beach Film Society 107 Truitt Ave. Rehoboth Beach, DE 19971 302-645-9095, ext. 4 administrator@rehobothfilm.com...

Cost: Free

Where:
, DE


Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
Website »

More information

Nanticoke Memorial Hospital offers childbirth classes on Thursdays from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in the Ground Floor Conference Room. The class will meet each Thursday for a total of five...

Cost: $50

Where:
Nanticoke Memorial Hospital
801 Middleford Rd.
Seaford, DE  19973
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Telephone: 302-629-6611 ext. 2540
Contact Name: Maternal Child Health Clinical Educator
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Regional artists Carol Tippit Woolworth, Catherine Drabkin, Pahl Alexander Hluchan, Colleen Randall and Dan Jackson explore the concept of place—physical, emotional and spiritual—in...

Where:
, DE

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, DE

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A successful writer of Broadway thrillers is struggling to overcome a dry spell when he receives a script from a student —a potential Broadway hit. Thereafter suspense...

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, DE

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Cost: Free

Where:
The Station Gallery
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View map »


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Website »

More information

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Cost: $13

Where:
Pennsylvania Convention Center
1101 Arch St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
View map »

More information

Explore some of the diverse ways that human beings have understood sex and sexuality, gender and gender diversity in this small but broad new exhibition, presented in conjunction with the 2015-2016...

Cost: Free with Museum Admission.

Where:
Penn Museum
3260 South St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
View map »


Website »

More information

Two-hour guided tours are offered at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Guests will visit Eleutherian Mills Residence, the first du Pont family home built in America; the First Office...

Cost: $0-14

Where:
Hagley Museum
201 Hagley Creek Rd
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-658-2400
Contact Name: Meg Marcozzi
Website »

More information

This art exhibit features fine art works and three dimensional pieces that embrace the subject “red.” Artist are free to use their imagination and creativity, so works will include...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Gibby Center for the Arts
51 W Main St.
Middletown, DE  19709
View map »


Sponsor: The Gibby Center for the Arts
Telephone: 302-449-5396
Contact Name: Caroline Zeitler
Website »

More information

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Cost: Free

Where:
, DE


Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
Website »

More information

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Cost: Free

Where:
The Gibby Center for the Arts
51W Main St.
Middletown, DE  19709
View map »


Sponsor: The Gibby Center for the Arts
Telephone: 302-449-5396
Contact Name: Caroline Zeitler
Website »

More information

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Cost: $15–$18

Where:
The Secret Garden
47 W Main St.
Middletown, DE  19709
View map »


Sponsor: The Everett Theatre
Telephone: 302-540-8561
Contact Name: Chris Everett
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Cost: 0.00

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Bayhealth Kent General Hospital
640 S. State Street
Private Dining Room #3
Dover, DE  19901
View map »


Telephone: 800-855-2CALLGA
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Cost: Free

Where:
First State Heritage Park
The Old State House
25 The Green
Dover, DE  19901
View map »


Sponsor: First State Heritage Park
Telephone: 739-9194
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Cost: $40

Where:
Humpty's Dumplings
277 N Keswick Ave
Glenside, PA  19038
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Sponsor: Creative Paint Nites
Telephone: 267-312-8339
Contact Name: Charisse R McGill
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Where:
, DE

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Regional artists Carol Tippit Woolworth, Catherine Drabkin, Pahl Alexander Hluchan, Colleen Randall and Dan Jackson explore the concept of place—physical, emotional and spiritual—in...

Where:
, DE

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Christiana Care at the New Castle Farmers Market Location: New Castle Farmers Market, 110 N. Dupont Hwy., New Castle, Market Stage Area Time: 11 a.m.–4 p.m. Routine screenings for...

Where:
, DE

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A successful writer of Broadway thrillers is struggling to overcome a dry spell when he receives a script from a student —a potential Broadway hit. Thereafter suspense...

Where:
, DE

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Our Winter Group Show features oil paintings by Rosemary Castiglioni, Jim Gears and Mary Ann Weselyk. Still-life paintings with subtle color variations by...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
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Features activities and crafts that help visitors learn about local and national political roles in environmental conservation. Visitors can learn about the battle that politicians fought for a...

Cost: Free with admission

Where:
Delaware Museum of Natural History
4840 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
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The Philly Home Show will inspire your inner HGTV star at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia from Feb. 12–14 and 19–21. The show will feature highly interactive...

Cost: $13

Where:
Pennsylvania Convention Center
1101 Arch St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
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Explore some of the diverse ways that human beings have understood sex and sexuality, gender and gender diversity in this small but broad new exhibition, presented in conjunction with the 2015-2016...

Cost: Free with Museum Admission.

Where:
Penn Museum
3260 South St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
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What was behind the legendary story of King Midas and his golden touch? That is the question to be answered—not with chests full of gold, but with a spectacular array of ancient artifacts,...

Cost: Adults $20; seniors $18; students (with ID) $15; children (ages 6–17) $15

Where:
Penn Museum
3260 South St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
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Guests can explore three floors of exhibitions in the Visitor Center, stroll along the river through dozens of historic structures from the Industrial Revolution, and explore the gardens and...

Cost: $0-14

Where:
Hagley Museum
201 Hagley Creek Rd
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-658-2400
Contact Name: Meg Marcozzi
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Penn Museum opens the world premiere exhibition The Golden Age of King Midas—featuring ancient treasures on loan from the Republic of Turkey—with a spectacular daylong public...

Cost: $15

Where:
Penn Museum
3260 South St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
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This art exhibit features fine art works and three dimensional pieces that embrace the subject “red.” Artist are free to use their imagination and creativity, so works will include...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Gibby Center for the Arts
51 W Main St.
Middletown, DE  19709
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Sponsor: The Gibby Center for the Arts
Telephone: 302-449-5396
Contact Name: Caroline Zeitler
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For more information, please contact: Dave Ruffner ​Rehoboth Beach Film Society 107 Truitt Ave. Rehoboth Beach, DE 19971 302-645-9095, ext. 4 administrator@rehobothfilm.com...

Cost: Free

Where:
, DE


Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
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The Rehoboth Beach Film Society and CAMP Rehoboth will co-present "Tab Hunter Confidential" and "Portrait of a Serial Monogamist" as part of its annual Another Take...

Cost: $8

Where:
Metropolitan Community Church
19369 Plantation Rd.
Rehoboth Beach, DE  19971
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Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
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"La Sylphide" shares the beautiful and romantic story of our hero, James—a young Scottish farmer who, on the eve of hid wedding, abandons his betrothed, Effie, after being...

Cost: $25

Where:
Salesanium School
1801 North Broom St.
Wilmington, DE  19802
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Sponsor: Academy of International Ballet
Telephone: 1-866-908-5666
Contact Name: Denis Gronostayskiy
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Venture back with us for an evening where we re-imagine the Victorian Industrial Age as seen through our steam-powered, futuristic goggles.  Our biggest fundraiser of the year and all proceeds...

Cost: $100-$110

Where:
Smyrna Opera House
7 West South Street
Smyrna, DE  19977
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A spoiled orphan girl is sent to live with her uncle on the Yorkshire moors and discovers renewed life, for herself and her sickly cousin, in bringing her dead aunt’s secret garden back to...

Cost: $15–$18

Where:
The Secret Garden
47 W Main St.
Middletown, DE  19709
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Sponsor: The Everett Theatre
Telephone: 302-540-8561
Contact Name: Chris Everett
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Location: St. Mark’s High School, 2501 Pike Creek Road, Wilmington Time: Registration: 11:30 a.m. Race: 12:30 p.m. Fee: $25 (until Thursday, Feb. 11), $35 after and day of event...

Where:
, DE

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Location: Beebe Healthcare’s Medical Center, 424 Savannah Road, Lewes Date: Saturday, Feb. 13 (and the second Saturday of each month) Time: 9 a.m. Fee: Free For more...

Where:
, DE

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Ditch the winter whites for a world of dazzling color at Longwood Gardens, where you can stroll through thousands of orchids in bloom. Kennett Square, www.longwoodgardens.org 

Where:
, DE

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A successful writer of Broadway thrillers is struggling to overcome a dry spell when he receives a script from a student —a potential Broadway hit. Thereafter suspense...

Where:
, DE

More information

Regional artists Carol Tippit Woolworth, Catherine Drabkin, Pahl Alexander Hluchan, Colleen Randall and Dan Jackson explore the concept of place—physical, emotional and spiritual—in...

Where:
, DE

More information

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