Alternative Spring Break at the Urban Ecology Center

Written by Meghan Jones
    Friday, 26 April 2013
Alternative Spring Break at the Urban Ecology Center

I recently had the pleasure of coordinating volunteer activities for a group of University of Kansas students who chose to do volunteer work on their spring break week. Here is a story written by one of those students.

Milwaukin’ on Sunshine

by Steve Norris

Whenever you pack yourself into a van with six other college students and get sent hundreds of miles away, you will undoubtedly have some stories to mull over on the way back. This was certainly the case on our Alternative Spring Break to the Urban Ecology Center in Milwaukee.

There we were, 7 kids from the University of Kansas, loading into our rental van. None of us had met before. Our drive “up north’” involved quality Iowan (if that’s even a real word) rest stops, Subway breaks, and progressively chillier weather. When we arrived, we unpacked, bought groceries, and ran around the church we were staying at wearing headlamps and pretending we were in a cave. We later referred to this activity as “spelunking”. This was the moment that I realized I was surrounded by some pretty odd kids, and that I was totally ok with it.

 IMG 0451-sm

The first time we walked into the Urban Ecology Center was a moment of surprise and joy. We weren’t sure what we were expecting, but we definitely were not expecting what we saw: a wooden interior that struck me as being beautifully modern. Everything seemed to be made of wood or some recycled material. Walking in from the cold, we especially enjoyed the wood burning stove, which we quickly huddled around.

Our introduction to the Center consisted of sitting by the fire, drinking coffee and eating scones. Obviously, we were sold on the place within minutes of being there, maybe even seconds.

IMG 0104-sm

For the rest of the day we learned to wax skis while interacting with the remarkably pleasant staff. I think that if I had been waxing skis anywhere else, I would’ve found the activity a bit mindless and slow, but surrounded by my new friends and the chipper atmosphere, it was a genuinely good time. This was good, because we waxed skis the next day too, right after we tested them out. We spent Tuesday morning cross-country skiing in the park behind the Center. None of us had done this before so it involved a lot of falling, laughing, getting back up, and falling again. I loved it.

IMG 0212-sm

For the next three days, we alternated between assisting with the Neighborhood Environmental Education Project and helping with various projects throughout the Center. On paper, rethreading fishing lines doesn’t sound thrilling, but again there was just something about the atmosphere of the place and the attitudes of the people that made it perfectly enjoyable.

Our Thursday night was a perfect example of how friendly everyone at the Center is. One of the reception volunteers, Jean, out of her own pocket, took our group to the Milwaukee Art Museum (Jean, if you’re reading this, let me say that it was one of the best museum experiences I’ve ever had and thanks again). The group spent several hours marveling over both the art and architecture of the place.

Our last day at the Center was by far the saddest. The entirety of the week, we had joked that the Milwaukee Alternative Spring Break group would not be returning home and that we’d much rather just stay at Urban Ecology Center for the rest of our lives. There was at least a tiny part of each of us that wished this was true. Throughout the course of the day I often found myself reflecting that I had never been to a more positive, sustainable, and all around pleasant place.

The next morning, before we ventured back home, we stopped by the Washington Park branch; a member of the staff, our new friend Terrance, had invited us for pancakes there (I can’t reiterate enough, UEC staff is the friendliest group of people I’ve ever met).

After pancakes, we said our goodbyes and left. I speak for the whole group when I say that it wasn’t an easy farewell. We miss the people, the Center, the lunch breaks, the scones, the smiles, the wax shavings, all of it.

So from the Milwaukee Alternative Spring Break group, thanks for letting 7 college students into your home. You taught us the importance of urban ecology, gave us an unforgettable spring break, and even let us drink your phenomenal coffee.

I can’t wait to visit again.

This blog post was written by Steve Norris. Steve is a student at University of Kansas, and was part of an Alternative Spring Break group that came to volunteer at the Urban Ecology Center for one week in March. Steve and the other members of his group helped with our equipment lending program, with facilities, land stewardship and much, much more! If you are interested in bringing a group to volunteer at the Urban Ecology Center, please contact Meghan Jones at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., (414) 964-8505 ext 110

Meghan Jones

Meghan Jones

Meghan Jones is the Volunteer Program Manager at the Urban Ecology Center. She started out as a volunteer at the Center when she returned to her hometown of Milwaukee after living in Thailand. She has spent time volunteering and working in various countries throughout the world, and loves the opportunity to connect people in Milwaukee to meaningful volunteer experiences at the Center. Meghan loves traveling, yoga, spending time with her family and dog, and doing just about anything outside.

Upcoming Events

Event Listings

ROOT - Riverside Park - Cancelled

Riverside Park

Friday, April 3rd

2:00 PM - 4:00 PM

More Details...

ROOT - Riverside Park - Cancelled

Riverside Park

Saturday, April 4th

9:30 AM - 11:00 AM

More Details...

Find event


Email Sign-Up


* indicates required
Which Emails would you like to receive?

Connect Now

facebook instagram 2018 2 twitter linkedin

Get Involved

Become a member today!

Copyright © 2020 The Urban Ecology Center