Our Stories

Written by Ken Leinbach
    Tuesday, 24 June 2014
Our Stories

“Ken, in addition to our gift for your early childhood program, we are also interested in giving you a little extra to write a book. We think that the story of the Urban Ecology Center is an inspirational one that needs to be told.”

Wow! How cool is that? This remarkable, unsolicited gift came last year from a foundation that had just started their support. However, it has not been until very recently that we have actually figured out how to carve out the necessary time to put a book together. I mean, really, how do you even start?

Well, in typical Urban Ecology Center fashion we’d like to start with you!

I have assembled a committee of volunteers and staff to help me and we’d like to ask you for three things to help us get our creative juices flowing. You are welcome to offer ideas on any or all of them.

First, complete this thought: “The story of the Urban Ecology Center is a story ...” Write one line or perhaps a short paragraph in response.

Second, respond to this statement: “In writing the book, while I know that not everything can be included, you must have a part that addresses X, you have to include the story of Y, and I’ll never forgive you if you do not mention Z.” What you put down for X, Y and/or Z could be quite informative for our committee.

The third and final request is this: If you have a personal story, a poignant example, an inspirational thought or an amazing experience that relates to your experience with the Center, we’d love to hear it.

At a recent board of directors meeting I asked similar questions and was blown away by some of the responses. Here are just a few:

The story of the Urban Ecology Center is a story...

“… that is preposterously optimistic. A story of saying ‘boy that would be a cool thing’ then ignoring that it would be impossible in most people’s opinions, and then through infectious enthusiasm, persistence, collaboration, penny-pinching, patience, luck, deep listening and dedication actually making it happen! Then best of all, sharing it with everyone!”

“... where a suit and tie business person can tap a maple tree with a hipster, an urban high school student or a stay-at-home mom. It’s a place where race and age and sex and ideological barriers fall away.”

“... of a deliberate attempt to engage and educate communities on the importance of becoming a more attentive audience to the birds, bees, butterflies and trees that surround and entertain them.”

“... about the power of hope, optimism and creativity. It’s a story where people are using a ‘PhD in the Obvious’ to positively affect urban fortunes.”

“... that provides an outlet for a community’s pent-up desire to protect natural spaces in the city.”

“... about a place that builds parks, restores land, teaches children, mentors young adults all while doing stewardship, science and building a healthier and safer neighborhood.”

“... of over and over again setting out to do what seems like a daunting, maybe impossible task ... and getting it done through collaboration, cooperation, a spirit of inclusion, transparency and fun. It’s a place of ‘miracles’ that involves and attracts children, families, schools, organizations, volunteers, philanthropists, scientists, artists, writers, speakers and more. “

One board member told an incredibly poignant father-daughter story that brought us all to tears, about a recent bike ride with his coming-of-age child.

“My high-school aged daughter would come home from school feeling somewhat overwhelmed — grappling with atrocities highlighted in her history class and fretting over the severity of environmental degradation discussed in her Environmental Science course. Add this to the common news about corruption in churches, violence in our schools and drugs in sports — her exasperation with humanity was becoming palpable. Then something unexpected and special happened on a sunny Saturday morning bike ride through Three Bridges Park.

The two of us were riding our bikes through the Menomonee River Valley and I happened to share how incredibly polluted the river and the land once was and how families were warned to stay away from this place. I then told her the powerful story of how so many “regular” people came together to clean up the river and create this beautiful place. She took notice of the nature around her and over the course of the ride visibly lightened in a way I had not seen in some time. While the story I told was about healing the land, the real story that day was about reclaiming and inspiring a child’s heart and allowing time to form the bond of family. That is where the power in the story of the Urban Ecology Center resides.”

Now that was a board meeting to remember!

And now we would love to hear from you …

We’ve set up an online form you can use to give us your answers; you can find it at urbanecologycenter.org/book. Or you can send your responses to Shameka Tyler at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or to her attention at 1500 E. Park Place, Milwaukee 53211.


We are realizing, as we dig into this new chapter (clever eh?) of documenting our story, that a book is a very big project. It may take upwards of a year or more to get something written and even longer to actually get it published*. AND we are making no promises to anyone that any of their stories or ideas will be incorporated in the book. Some might, but what we mostly are seeking at this early stage are thoughts to point us in the right direction. Hope you can help us!

*If anyone happens to be or know an agent or have a direct link to a publisher please contact Shameka as we are all ears!

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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