HONOLULU (KHON2) — It’s been more than a month since someone stole a dinosaur trailer from local toy makers Ayla Grady Whalen and Robert Whalen. The trailer was used to transport three animatronic dinosaurs — each measuring about 10-feet-long and two-feet-wide — to parties around Maui.
It’s usually parked near their store Violet’s Toy Box, named after their middle child Violet Rose. For the Whalens, the loss is as big as its size. They had a rocky journey from the start, but it’s one they know they can overcome, with the support of each other and the community.
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Before Violet’s Toy Box, there was 4 Kids Quick Science, a company that the Whalens started in 2017. The origin story behind it began less than a year before, when their family moved back from the mainland.
Ayla said she spent most of her childhood in Kihei and lived around Maui before moving to the mainland. She was traveling back and forth until 2016 when she and her husband decided to make a permanent move with their two kids — and it wasn’t an easy one.
“We ran into housing difficulties, which we all know is a common problem here, and so, pregnant with my third kid, we found ourselves living in the homeless shelter in Wailuku,” said Ayla.
In an effort to raise their older kid’s spirits, Ayla and Robert started to do science experiments on the weekends. Since Robert’s father was a biochemical engineer, Robert spent a lot of his childhood doing experiments and wanted to pass on that joy to his own kids.
“The first weekend we started growing crystals with our kids,” said Ayla. “The other kids at the shelter kept coming by to see what we were up to so, with parent permission, we shared our fun.”
The kids spent the rest of the week asking the Whalens what they were going to do next, and that’s when they saw the spark of hope grow within their kids and the kids around them.
“We ended up with extra supplies from some of the experiments, and so we packaged them in pre-portioned amounts, and the week after our youngest was born we started selling individual pre-packaged crystal grow experiments at the swap meet on Saturdays,” said Ayla.
It was then when their company 4 Kids Quick Science started to take hold. The Whalens would spend the week looking for supplies and coming up with experiment ideas. Ayla shared that they couldn’t exactly source for production at the time, but they had fun nonetheless and kept the ideas in their back pocket.
“Our company grew slowly, and we were able to get some help from the company Robert had started working for, lending us tables and tents to use at the swap meet,” said Ayla. “We grew our company, starting with chemistry at the swap meet and moving into other events like the Maui Sunday Market and Maui Mompreneur as we expanded to other sciences.”
Since then, they have released kits for chemistry, earth science, engineering and physics; they expect to release a biology kit by the end of the year.
“Just before the pandemic hit, we opened our first retail location Violet’s Toy Box at 1794 S. Kihei Rd. Less than two weeks from the date we opened, COVID hit and the governor asked everyone to stay at home,” said Ayla. “We adjusted, changed our plans and our goals through that time, and managed to luckily keep our retail location more or less open and running in some way through the worst of the pandemic.”
That included doing contactless deliveries to homes and even to quarantined guests at hotels.
In addition to sharing their love for science with the community, the Whalens got into 3-D printing, which they used to design their own experiments and make PPE alongside the Maui Makers group.
Just before opening Violet’s Toy Box, they bought Rexy — their first dinosaur — then later invested in the other two in 2021. The herbivores are fully animatronic rides that can carry up to 350 pounds which delights both kids and adults.
“We take them to events, parties and graduations all around Maui,” said Ayla. “Our trailer that was stolen on July 16th from in front of our family home on Halama Street was our only means of bringing our very heavy friends out and about on adventures on Maui.”
The Whalens have started a GoFundMe page with a $3,000 goal to get a replacement trailer. Leftover funds will cover registration and getting it marked safe for the road, as well as starting on the safety modifications to fit all three dinosaurs. People can also donate to their PayPayl account at email@example.com or Venmo @AylaFae. If you have information about this case, contact the Maui Police Department.
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“Our dream is to create a children’s museum here on Maui that will give kids a fun, safe, and educational place to spend time,” said Ayla.