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This Place Is Real

Written by Glenna Holstein
    Wednesday, 05 September 2012
This Place Is Real

I don’t remember the first time I walked into the Urban Ecology Center. This strikes me as unfortunate, because I have since witnessed many people’s first encounter with the Center, and it can be pretty incredible. I love watching people’s faces as the energy of the amazing work happening here breaks over them and they think, “This place is here? This is real?”

My most recent experience of this occurred at the new Menomonee Valley branch. One afternoon, I looked out the window and noticed a group of kids gathering on the bike path. I had seen them around often and was curious as to what they were up to. As I watched, it became clear that they were carefully laying rocks across the path, apparently hoping that some hapless biker would be amusingly upended by their construction.

I was unsure what to do. I didn’t want to yell at them—they are the reason we are here, after all. But I couldn’t ignore them either. So I went outside, introduced myself, told them about the Center and the community mosaic project that was happening in preparation for the Grand Opening, and said “You know, for the mosaic, we thought it would be cool to have rocks incorporated in the design. Since you guys have conveniently collected a bunch of rocks, would you mind bringing them inside and donating them to the project?” And, I kid you not, those teenage boys picked up as many rocks as they could carry (even filled their pockets!) and brought them inside with me.

And as soon as they were in, I saw that “this is real?” look come over their faces. I showed them the slide, the overlook, the future animal room, and they were hooked!

“Come back tomorrow!” I said as they left smiling, “You can help with the mosaic!”

And they did! One of them, Marcel, has come back nearly every day to help with the mosaic and has even come to a Volunteer Orientation. In fact, he was recently overheard telling some of his friends, “Yeah, this is the Urban Ecology Center … I pretty much work here!”

As I said, I don’t remember my first day at the Center. But I do distinctly remember that feeling of belonging that I can see Marcel experiencing. And as I am watching our newest branch take shape and already begin to have an impact, I could not be prouder to say that I “pretty much work here.”

Glenna Holstein

Glenna Holstein

Glenna grew up a mile up the river from the Riverside Park, so the Urban Ecology Center has always been important to her. Her studies and work have taken her all over the hemisphere, but her home has always been right here in Milwaukee. As Menomonee Valley Branch Manager, she is delighted to be part of the team that is working to connect a new community to the nature in their neighborhood. Her favorite things to do include hiking, exploring, cooking, singing, building forts, and trying to convince children that cockleburs are really baby porcupines!

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