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Together, We are an Ocean

Written by Ken Leinbach
    Monday, 21 October 2013
Together, We are an Ocean

“Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean.” — Ryunosuke Satoro. 

I love the community we’ve built at the Urban Ecology Center! I am constantly amazed by the dedicated and passionate people I meet here. Here are four affirming vignettes – all from one day!

First I had a meeting at Menomonee Valley:

Hi, can I help you? Is this your first time here? Let me tell you just how special this place is. Have you walked through Three Bridges Park yet? It’s pretty spectacular and just opened up! Did you know you can borrow fishing rods and even a kayak if you wanted to enjoy the Menomonee River? They don’t rent them, but actually lend them to you! ... and she went on.

This volunteer receptionist, Dana, had never met me so I got to experience being a visitor for the first time through her fresh eyes. Her enthusiasm was infectious and her pride palpable. It was great to be anonymous. Once I shared my position, she exclaimed, “Are you Ken?” Having been there over a year, I guess she had heard about me. She was only a little embarrassed and we ended up talking for a long time.

As I probed deeper into her year of volunteering, I was impressed with her Center knowledge, her ownership and even more so with her ideas for other ways the Center could grow and improve. That is what is so great about deep community engagement ... it makes us so much better!

Later I found myself on a tour along the Milwaukee River where I had another fun, anonymous encounter at the new canoe launch.

“We’ve had bites but have been fishing for only 15 minutes. Going after catfish, though last Sunday we got some nice blue gills bigger than my hand. Just found this spot last week. It’s perfect! Someone has been doing some real nice work around here. My name is Reggie, pleasure to meet you, and that’s my friend Antwan. We’ve been fishing down here for close to 20 years. We love what they are doing to this land. Real pretty, easy to get to, and I swear the fishing has improved ten times what it used to be!”

There is nothing more satisfying than hearing the impact of your hard work, unsolicited and without, pretense through someone else’s eyes. Reggie had no idea that he was talking to the “someone” and a significant member of the “they” that he was referring to. It almost made me cry!

When I got back to my office I heard of another experience, one that really did make me cry. Carijean, an employee since almost the beginning of the Center, rolled into my office with a warm smile and shared this experience.

Carijean out for a wheel through the Milwaukee Rotary Centennial Arboretum.

“You wouldn’t believe what I did today! I was wheeling around in the Arboretum when I spied a path down to the river. I took it just to see how far it would go and I made it to the North Avenue Bridge ... alone! It was beautiful. I’ve never been so close to the river. On my way back I ran into someone else in a wheelchair enjoying the same “first time” experience. I don’t even know what to say.”

Carijean has edited stories about explorations along the river for years, but only now, since the truly accessible trails are complete with the opening of the Milwaukee Rotary Centennial Arboretum, can she join the rest of us in this magical sanctuary.

I love moments like this! It’s what we do to heal the land that results in these unguided, spontaneous experiences in nature. It’s taken years of effort by hundreds of people ... and it’s working!

Recovering from this happy emotional moment, I open my email to ...

Hello Mr. Leinbach,

I am writing you to acknowledge Terrance Davis, one of your employees at the Washington Park location. I called the Center today to inquire about where I could find milkweed, because my daughter needed to study it for a science assignment. Not only was he extremely prompt at getting back to me, he also proactively spoke to me about the benefits of membership. My children have both been on field-trips to the Urban Ecology Center, but until now, I did not realize that membership was available and offered so many perks.

Mr. Davis was so enthusiastic over the phone that when I went to Washington Park to find the milkweed, I decided to purchase a family membership. Mr. Davis was extremely knowledgeable and passionate about the Urban Ecology Center, and my daughters were very excited about our decision.

Sincerely,

Rita

What an amazing end to a wonderful day!

We talk a lot about the impact the Urban Ecology Center has on our kids, but Dana, Reggie, Carijean and Rita are just as important as the students we serve and the impact our Center has on them is just as profound.

Are you a volunteer who has given your time, talent or ideas to this important mission in the city? If so, I thank you. Are you a member or supporter? I hope so and we extend the deepest gratitude to you.

Have you introduced someone you know to this community recently? If not, now is a great time to do so. The more people engaged, the more fun we can have and the larger the impact in the world will be realized!

As the quote says, “Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean!”

Ken Leinbach

Ken Leinbach

Ken is a nationally recognized educator and leader in community-based environmental education. He currently serves as the Executive Director of the Urban Ecology Center. With his contagious energy, Ken speaks on a number of topics including: urban education, community organizing, environmental issues, finding abundance, the power of story, sustainable design, the need for "near-by" nature, leadership, fundraising, and green living. Ken holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Antioch College in Ohio, a Masters degree in Environmental Education from Prescott College in Arizona and received an honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from the Milwaukee Instituted of Art and Design.

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