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Executive Director’s Message
Through Our Children’s Eyes


My 3 kids, ages 30, 24, and 11, have always helped me look at the Mission through a child’s eyes.

When I first arrived here 20 years ago, my son Dylan wondered aloud about the long-term scaffolding that had stood against the Ruins for ten years and asked me if it was historic. Without a cell phone as part of his childhood, he impressed upon me the need to appreciate that how the site actually looked affected how people felt about the Mission (Today he is a volunteer docent for the LA Conservancy and a City Planner).

My daughter Lisa later helped me to recognize the importance of evoking a sense of inclusivity and assurance that each student feels welcome here. She made me realize that every child needs to hear history with a voice that aims to connect them to it. This realization led to the development of our original award-winning History Audio Tour, which later led to the development of the Garden Tour, and Christmas/Capistrano Lights version as well (Today she is a costume designer working in New York, telling stories through theatre).

My son Jack, a born history lover and WW2 aficionado and dyslexic learner, has challenged me to consider how children learn. With him, I realize that text heavy exhibits are not the strongest teaching tool for all learners. Jack’s “pandemic experience” with remote learning and technology also showed me that kids are hearty and genuinely willing to learn, and shine, if we just make learning real for them. They can feel passionately about history, and this place too, if we make sure that they understand what we are saying.

With these experiences, and the post pandemic opportunity to rethink our education program, it was timely to reconsider the Mission’s long presence as destination where thousands of students return annually to learn about California history.

As a result, this year the Mission education and field trip program is now known as, “Remembering the Builders: Mission San Juan Capistrano’s Student Education Program.” This new name reflects our effort to focus on sharing  history in new ways. With our program’s new moniker comes the soon to be released student audio tour experience, “If These Walls Could Talk.”  The tour leads students to 23 stops to hear from the Grandmotherly Mission Wall who introduces them to the Builders comprised of the indigenous people, soldiers, padres, and more.

The tour, produced using the services of TourMate was co-written with Caroline Fiegel and myself. In developing it, we hired a panel of special voice artists and I asked my son Jack to volunteer to play the part of the inquisitive child. We also asked our friend, Mission Bell Ringer and local Indigenous resident, Nathan Banda, to play the part of our Acjachemen person. Accompanying the diverse cast is original music and lively sound effects. This new student tour can be easily experienced by the entire family (or simultaneously with adults enjoying one of our already offered alternative tours, such as the garden or history tour). After the Tour each child receives a collectible Remember the Builders bracelet so that they can take something with them to remember the beauty of their experience and the contributions of those who came before them.

Over the many years, I am often reminded of just how grateful I have been to have the resource of my motherhood help me see to things that a business model or proforma sheet might not tell me otherwise. The metric of success is not measured by money but instead on our efficacy in shaping the spirits, minds, hearts, and souls of all learners who come here. Sometimes kids need to get out of the classroom, away from books, off of their phones, and see history up close. They need to ask questions and ponder answers. For if given the chance, they too will one day be builders.

And, in looking through the eyes of our children, I know it can be so.

Mechelle Lawrence Adams
Executive Director

About Our Director

Mechelle is a Native Californian, graduate from Huntington Beach High School, California State University Fullerton (BS, Political Science) and University of Redlands (M.A.,Management).

She and the Mission are the recipients of such awards as National Preservation Award, National Association of Interpretation Media Award, Arts Orange County’s Helena Modjeska Cultural Legacy award, San Juan Capistrano’s Mayor’s Business of the Year, Orange County’s Top Work Place Award, Tabasco Company’s top community cookbook award, Mayor’s City of San Juan Capistrano Business Organization of the Year for Heritage Tourism Association and marketing co-op efforts supporting the innovative promotion of the historic downtown’s business community and most recently California Missions Foundation Chairman’s Award for Significant Contribution to missions preservation.

Mechelle is the proud mother to three and resides in her home town of Old Town, Seal Beach with her husband and young son. She is the proud mother to two adult children, one a city planner and the other a costume designer.

Board and Commission Positions Held:
• Arts OC, Board member (2018 to Present)
• Committee Member, Advisory Committee for California Missions and Presidios (2018 to present)
• Orange County Historical Commissioner, 5th District, Supervisor Lisa Bartlett (Spring 2017 to 2021)
• City of San Juan Capistrano, Cultural Heritage Commissioner and current chair (2015 to 2019)
• San Juan Capistrano Heritage Tourism Association, Founder (2014 to present)
• Discovery Cube’s Innovators, Founding member (2013 to present)

• Preserve OC, member
• National Trust for Preservation, member
• California Preservation Foundation, member

Past Board Memberships/Non-profits Support:
• San Juan Capistrano Chamber of Commerce, Board member
• San Juan Capistrano Historical Society Board member
• City of San Juan Capistrano, Laissez Faire Business Sub-Committee
• Discovery Cube Foundation Gala Co-Chairperson (2015, 2016, 2017)

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Museum Hours

Tuesday - Sunday, 9AM - 5PM

Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Closed for Annual Gala on September 22, 2023.
Closed early Christmas Eve and Good Friday.
Hours subject to change


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26801 Old Mission Road
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675
(949) 234-1300

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