Giving the Gift of Experience

Written by Beth Heller
    Thursday, 16 November 2017
Giving the Gift  of Experience

“See you at the top, Aunt Beth!” shouted my niece, Kate who was 12 at the time. We were at Lapham Peak facing what is affectionately called “Asthma Hill”. My niece and her friend had mastered the art of skiing uphill leaving me lagging behind, catching my breath. They paused and asked me to lead only once, at the “Roller Coaster” section of the trail: a steep, undulating, fast and slightly icy technical stretch. I must say, I was delighted to be able to give a few pointers, even if it was just once that day.

A year earlier, in the same uphill location, Kate and her friend slid back one foot for every two feet forward. They had not yet mastered the function of the kick sections and edges of their skinny cross-country skis. My husband and I provided some basic ski instruction and a lot of cheering and encouragement. Kate’s transformation from year to year was beautiful to see, reflecting not just her growing athletic ability, but her wonderful, youthful energy. What a great gift! For Kate and for me.

This was our Christmas gift to her: a winter outing (her choice — skiing, snowshoeing or sledding) with a friend of her choosing. We brought hot chocolate, a picnic lunch and skis borrowed from the Urban Ecology Center. Giving the gift of experience is a tradition that both of my nieces have come to expect and I suspect, based on their smiles, even look forward to each year.

With holidays approaching, pressure builds to find the right gift, figure out budgets and navigate family dynamics as gracefully as possible. My husband and I have given the gift of experience for nearly a decade now and found that it can smooth these pressures. Costs don’t all hit at once and the gift of time together can be absolutely wonderful. For us, it has been a time to truly get to know our nieces: meeting their friends, listening to the chatter coming from the back-seat as we travel to our adventure spots, and together experiencing the joy of exploration in nature. It has been pretty special.

We’ve kept track of the experiences each year so that they are similar in scope according to age. For example, both girls went to Chicago with us on the train when they were nine years old. We also know that by bringing one niece with us, the other has good alone family time at home with her parents. A win-win-win scenario. And so much fun!

Other gifts of experience highlights include:

  • An overnight camping trip in the summer with a friend at Kohler-Andrae State Park
  • A train trip to Chicago’s Millennium Park and Field Museum.
  • Canoe camping along the Mecan River.

If a trip isn’t in the cards, consider one of UEC’s free public festivals. Our younger niece, Meg, attended Winterfest at our Washington Park branch and it was perfect for her. She had never ice skated on a pond and wanted a new experience after skating at Red Arrow Park the year before. There also was hot chocolate, sledding, ice-fishing, sled-dogs, music and face painting to enjoy that year. A day to remember!

So, as you begin planning for the holidays, why not consider giving the gift of experience for children and adults? It is fun, healthy, affordable, heart-warming and memorable. And your membership at the Urban Ecology Center makes it super easy. The equipment lending benefit for members is extraordinarily affordable, just $45 dollars a year for a family. You can even ask staff and volunteers for advice on where to go. Give a gift of experience and your gift will last forever.

Beth Heller

Beth Heller

Senior Director of Education and Strategic Planning, Beth received her Masters in Business Administration from UW-Milwaukee in 2005, where she received the Outstanding Business Plan award for a plan to launch a branch of the Urban Ecology Center in Washington Park. She graduated from Lawrence University in Appleton, WI in 1994 with a B.A. degree in Biology and Education. Beth began working at the Urban Ecology Center in 2000 to combine her love of the city with her appreciation of nature. Beth loves to sail, bike, sing and hike.


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