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Free Fun Fridays at museums will begin in June

Like many low-income parents, Hamideh Nilchi can’t afford to go to the museum. She took her 5-year-old daughter to a free event one evening at Boston Children’s Museum, and the experience had them hooked. Melika, her daughter, was so enthralled she wanted to explore every area in the museum.

Since then, they have not been back -- or to any other museums for that matter. Regular admissions costs too much, she says.

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“I tried to get a library pass, but it always gone,’’ said Nilchi, a stay-at home mom who lives in West Roxbury with her husband, a taxi driver. “I looked online, but all the museums are too expensive.”

Parents squeezed tight often don’t have enough cash to spare for a day at the museum. But a program by a Newton nonprofit hopes to give them a break. The Highland Street Foundation, a Newton nonprofit, announced Tuesday that for the fifth straight year it will continue to give guests the chance to trek the 16 historic sites on the Freedom Trail, go scavenger hunting at Tanglewood, or explore aquatic habitats at the Ocean Explorium in New Bedford.

And it won’t cost patrons a penny.

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With Highland Street Foundation covering admissions costs, six different cultural venues will be open for free on each Friday from June 28 through Aug. 30.

Highland Street Foundation has invested $650,000 this year to make the Free Fun Fridays program possible at 60 different cultural institutions, such as zoos, museums, and exploriums, which are expected to attract some 200,000 visitors.

“The program and its mission are simple,’’ said Blake Jordan, the nonprofit’s executive director. “Free Fun Fridays is a making the arts accessible to all residents of Massachusetts. By opening the doors to this treasure for free, many people have a chance to visit a museum they have not been to in their own backyards.”

Established five years ago amid the middle of the economic downtown, the program targeted families struggling to do something educational and cultural with their children at a time of the year when students are off school and idle.

State education secretary Matthew H. Malone said the program is a boon for young people, who need intellectual and socially enriching activities.

“Learning does not stop in the summer,’’ said Malone, during a conference call with reporters Tuesday. “It’s very important that we keep young people engaged. What’s most exciting about this program, about this model, about this concept is that it’s not just good for young people either.”

The program has grown through the years, from 10 institutions and 60,000 visitors five years ago, to 50 cultural centers and more than 100,000 attendees last year, according to Jordan.

This year’s museums include sites that have participated previously such as the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the Peabody Essex Museum. New venues include The Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Barrington and the Ocean Explorium in New Bedford.

The Freedom Trail Foundation is also participating for the first time, and officials plan to add a full staff to handle expected demands for tours, said Tavia Malone, business manager at the foundation.

The foundation also plans to limit the number of people on the tours -- which stops at the Old South Meeting House, Granary Burying Ground, and Faneuil Hall -- to keep the experience enjoyable for all, she added.

Lynn DuVal Luse, director of marketing and public programs at the Museum of African American History on Beacon Hill, said the facility will also get a boost from the free event.

“This is a big help,’’ DuVal, who said the museum has other free events such as ones marking the commemoration the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the recruitment of black troops in the civil war.

“There is marketing that goes into this that make the public aware that the museum is open and that access is available,’’ she added.

And that is good news for Michaela Sammey, a 20-year-old Mattapan resident who occasionally takes her young nieces to the Children’s Museum on Friday evenings when admissions cost is $1. She visits other museums, but only on school field trips. Now she is grateful that she will get a chance to visit more museums this summer.

“I don’t normally go because it is too expensive,’’ she said. “Now I can definitely go.’’

Meghan Irons can be reached at mirons@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.
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