Change Takes Courage and We are Here to be Change Agents!

Written by Ken Leinbach
    Friday, 08 November 2013
Change Takes Courage and We are Here to be Change Agents!

Change, real change takes time.

Today, we are three branches, 224 acres and 3,000 plus members strong. But we didn’t start off here. It took commitment. It took community. It took resources. It took me. It took you.

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Lately, I've been reflecting on the journey of Washington Park. My mind wandered back to those early days in the trailer at Riverside Park. The community effort to clean up the park had actually started several years before the Urban Ecology Center officially formed and we had a home to operate from, albeit a trailer. The transformation that took Riverside Park from an unsafe, undesirable park to a vibrant natural space and community gathering place, took the hard work and dedication of many over more than a decade. This kind of momentum is building in Washington Park now, but we need your help to keep it rolling!

While the Urban Ecology Center has only been a presence in Washington Park for six years, many great things have happened in that short span! We’ve planted an orchard, built a brand new Native Wisconsin Animal Room, and given the building a face lift. Our festivals are drawing hundreds of people from all sides of the park on a Saturday afternoon and our Neighborhood Environmental Education Project has a waiting list of schools hoping to participate. But the greatest stories of accomplishments and impacts come from our program participants.

fff site Donald imagece8a3aMeet the Young Scientists of Washington Park. This program is truly flourishing in Washington Park. While the kids see it like 14-year-old Donald Harris, who explains, “The Young Scientists Club is for kids in the community to come to have fun,” so much more is happening. This program is a safe after-school alternative for kids aged 5-13 that provides educational learning opportunities, and the young people in the club at Washington Park do mind-blowingly awesome things:

  • Last summer they designed and conducted an original, professional-quality research project in partnership with the University of Minnesota’s Driven to Discover program. Studying the birds in Washington Park led them to enter their findings into a national community science database called eBird, create a poster summarizing their project, and present at three different conferences!

  • fff site Jada image940453The kids are also engaging in a long-term water quality study of the Lagoon, in partnership with MMSD. Each Wednesday the kids test the water and record their results. It’s been almost a year, and they are gearing up to write their first report!

  • This summer, five of the Young Scientists attended Camp Snowball, a week-long conference dedicated to Systems Thinking, at Wake Forest University in North Carolina. This experience empowered our students to become leaders in their schools and communities by exposing them to powerful ways of thinking and acting to help them thrive in a changing world.

  • And every Friday is Food Friday. From seed to plate, the Young Scientists are learning how to grow, produce, and cook their own healthy foods. Tending the gardens is a big task covered by the kids, and the dishes they help prepare are made mostly from the garden’s harvest!

fff site VeAndre image53a3dfThese are just some highlights of the incredible things members of the Young Scientists Club are doing. What impresses me even more though, is how these kids have become so engaged in the program that they have formed bonds with each other and the staff. A number of young people who have technically aged out of the Club, still return to volunteer with the group on a regular basis. Their continued involvement keeps them off the streets, out of trouble, and keeps their minds active and learning. They are developing a sense of respect for self, community, and environment through this engagement.

These kids are the faces for our future. Young minds engaging in constructive, meaningful activities are developing an environmental ethic and a sense of civic responsibility that can drive positive change in our community. The Young Scientists Club and other programming at Washington Park offer bright stories of achievement in a community that has had a challenging year. As Willie Karidis, Washington Park Branch Manager, has said, “It is the most important time of all to be in Washington Park.” He is so right.

We are here to be change agents. Challenges only strengthen our commitment to being a positive presence in Washington Park. Join us in this commitment. Help us help them transform their neighborhood park into a safe natural space and community gathering place. Your donation will ensure our programs continue reaching kids like Donald, Jada, and VeAndre – providing them with opportunities to expand their minds and grow into the future leaders of our community.


Ken Leinbach,
Executive Director

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Ken Leinbach

Ken Leinbach

Ken Leinbach is a nationally recognized science educator and leader in community-based environmental education. From a trailer in a high-crime city park, Ken has had fun facilitating the grassroots effort to create and grow the Urban Ecology Center which is the topic of his first book.

Striving to live with as little environmental impact as possible, Ken lives in the community in which he works and, not owning a car, commutes by bike, unicycle, roller blades, and occasionally even by kayak on the Milwaukee River.


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