A Family Inspired: Penny's Story

Written by Urban Ecology Center
    Friday, 22 November 2013
A Family Inspired: Penny's Story

My mom and aunt used to ride bikes along the sidewalks that outlined the empty lots of their mostly abandoned subdivision. It was here they and their friends would play and dream – where the grasses grew tall with brightly colored wildflowers painting the landscape and the groves of trees provided a magical oasis. Little did they know this place was meant to be built up with houses, one next to the other, and just how lucky they were the economic crisis of the 1930’s had stalled these plans. This enchanting place, where their imaginations could run wild, would remain unchanged for the rest of their childhood.

Penny Cruse is an active volunteer and donor. She currently serves on our board of directors and is the Chair of the Development Committee. Penny and her husband Chuck have been active members of the Milwaukee Rotary Centennial Arboretum Design Committee and helped to create the ImagiNature Stations found throughout the arboretum. This is her first blog post for the Center.

Every child deserves, and I would argue needs, this type of experience in nature. As our world becomes more urbanized, these places of wonder become fewer and less accessible. The Urban Ecology Center is helping to preserve and invigorate natural spaces like this in our community. The recent additions of Three Bridges Park and the Milwaukee Rotary Centennial Arboretum have enriched Milwaukee’s neighborhoods for children and adults alike.

I am living evidence that caring role models help develop an environmental ethic in children. Two important mentors in my life, my mom and my aunt, helped foster my appreciation for the natural world. Their early experiences inspired our family camping adventures that I relished as a kid. Today, due to their influences, I enjoy outdoor activities of all kinds and find myself spending much of my free time at the Urban Ecology Center. I now serve on the Board of Directors and help people become good stewards of the environment.

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From left to right: Lyn, her daughter Penny, and her sister Joan.

Built on a mentoring model, like the one I had growing up, the Urban Ecology Center is reaching young people at every stage of their development. Through the Neighborhood Environmental Education Project, the Center is partnering with local schools to give kids hands-on learning experiences that transcend the traditional classroom. Nature is brought to life with programs like the Young Scientists Club and Summer Camp, as kids learn scientific concepts that advance their academic performance and ecological understanding. Furthermore, the High School Outdoor Leadership and Adult Summer Internship programs extend learning by nurturing the next generation of leaders.

Perhaps, what makes this place even more impressive is that there are opportunities for every age, background, and financial ability. Membership is available to anyone. Through membership, the Center makes many unique adventures, from canoeing the Milwaukee River to practicing yoga on the tower, possible and affordable.

joan  lynn cruse 3Penny's role models: her aunt, Joan, and her mother, Lyn.

I could go on, really. Even in the short amount of time my mom and my aunt have been volunteering at the Center, they too have been wowed by the open and welcoming spirit of this place. My mom was so inspired that she shared with me this reflection as she arrived at Riverside Park one morning to help plan the annual Summer Solstice Soirée:

As I parked, a couple was lashing a canoe to their car. I began to walk toward the Center, but paused to witness a group of delighted summer campers exiting the bus and beginning their trek across the street into the park. I couldn’t help but smile as they all animatedly flapped their arms like butterflies. Literally just steps ahead of them were a couple of teens headed toward the river pausing to look down at the Oak Leaf Trail, no doubt planning their next adventure. And as I reached the front doors, a young mother, her toddler and babe were peering into the pond at the floating flowers and wondering where the baby toads had gone. All of this energy outside the building was refreshing, but it didn’t stop there. Inside was just as busy, with campers entering from the secret slide door, “splashing” into Lake Michigan; teams of volunteers with gloves and tools, ready to head out into the park; and a young man working diligently on his computer with books at his elbow. I was amazed by the wonder and life in this place, inside and out.

I couldn’t have said it any better. The Urban Ecology Center is a place where much good work is done: children are learning, teens have a chance to explore science careers, adults can participate in new adventures, families and friends form bonds over shared experiences, and so much more. I absolutely love telling people about this place and the beneficial impact it has in our neighborhoods and our environment. It makes living in this urban area very special for us.

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