Tia Richardson is a Milwaukee-based community artist who provides visual arts programming as a tool for community-building for young people and adults, focusing on how community art reinforces empathy and cooperation with one another. She met Davita and I at Menomonee Valley one afternoon to share how she became a member of the Urban Ecology Center about two years ago, and how membership continues to provide her with an essential extension of her community and her home.
Pat Mueller and Roger Coleman are two of the most familiar faces at the Riverside Park Urban Ecology Center, each one sharing a history with the Center that goes back nearly two decades and an appreciation that persists to this day. You’ll find Pat volunteering behind the reception desk every Thursday morning and Roger back in the office 5 days a week completing his Volunteer Program internship. They met with us at Riverside Park one afternoon to tell us their thoughts on nurturing, growth, and taking care of what you have.
Steve & Barb Weinstein have lived in the Riverside Park neighborhood since 1978. Steve bikes the Oak Leaf Trail every day, at times stopping to rest and take in the sounds of children playing in the park. He strolled into Riverside Park one evening after work and told me about his history with the Center; thinking back to when this building was nothing but a dream and his daughter was too young to work, he spoke of the Center’s growth with a strong sense of pride and a hint of nostalgia.
Michelle Young is an MPS teacher and proud mother of two extremely bright girls, Jada & Kennedy. She’s been nominated for Teacher of the Year for the past 3 years, but has yet to accept the award: “When you teach from the heart, you don’t get your validation from adults; you get it from the kids." Her family signed up for membership soon after Jada and Kennedy joined the Young Scientists Club in 2010/2011, and they’ve been actively involved in our educational programming ever since. She met Davita and me at Washington Park to tell us about her profound appreciation for what she’s learned here and how it shaped her life and career.
On a line of rope tied between two trees in Washington Park, six brown paper bags jumped in the wind. Two-year-old Lilli Morby stood with her father, Josh, and watched with wonder as a member of the Urban Ecology Center’s Citizen Science team took down one of the bags, put in a hand and pulled out a calmed songbird. The researcher weighed and banded the bird, identified its gender and a new family memory was made.
Born and raised in Milwaukee, Jozlynne Zbichorski (pronounced Spee-or-ski), learned about the Urban Ecology Center several years ago. Both of her parents are public school teachers at Milwaukee Public Schools (Jozlynne is also going to UW-Milwaukee for a teaching certification) and she had lived next to Riverside Park for several years. However, she had never considered becoming a member of the Center until this summer when she and her boyfriend tried to plan a kayak trip down the Milwaukee River.
On a warm Saturday morning, I met the Beyer family at the Urban Ecology Center’s Riverside park location. Immediately upon entering the doors, the four family members scattered energetically around the building. Kirsten watched and waited as daughter Sophie, age 7, darted to the game area and pulled out toys, blocks, and a “See and Say” that made animal noises. Dad Andreas and son Alden, age 3, were not within my periphery and I wondered if they decided not to come. Kirsten detected an inquisitive look in my eye.
On a bright, cheery Tuesday morning, I met Dan, Sherri, Josiah, and Tirzah Jibson at the Urban Ecology Center’s Menomonee Valley Branch. Immediately, I saw a glimpse of each family member’s unique personality through their independent engagement with other Center visitors. Dan sat in a circle with the morning Bird Walk group, listening carefully while sharing a huge smile and kind laugh. Sherri chatted and sipped hot chocolate with another birder and Center member, Carolyn Vargo. Josiah and Tirzah each played with Carolyn’s young grandchildren, who clearly loved the individual attention they were receiving from the older Jibson kids. Even though these interactions were separate, a shared glow of patience, grace, and serenity emanated from each of the Jibsons that clearly united them as family.
When the Young-Harris family welcomed me into their house on a cold Saturday morning, Donald and Donovin politely greeted me at the door. Golden sunlight streamed into their warm, cozy home, and they offered me a seat on their couch. Within moments, their mother Katrina Young-Harris walked into the living room where I sat with her boys, and she shared a smile so big and warm that I instantly felt “at home” with this family.
Long-time Urban Ecology Center member Andy Connors is a born storyteller. Growing up within the Anishinaabe community along the Bad River in northern Wisconsin, Andy developed a strong sense of Native American identity through his ability to engage and connect with others through storytelling. Embracing his outgoing personality and narrative skills, Andy obtained a degree in Journalism, performed Native American folk music, and shared his stories of nature and cultural identity as a teacher at the Indian Community School in Milwaukee.