The Urban Ecology Center Is More Than Just a Job, It's Family

Written by Patrick
    Wednesday, 19 February 2014
The Urban Ecology Center Is More Than Just a Job, It's Family

I thought the day would never come. Two years ago I probably couldn't tell you when my internship would end, and now I'm attempting to refute the inevitable conclusion. That's why I'm telling my story, because I want others, just like me, to share the experiences and incredible acquaintances that I've had the pleasure of having.

My name is Patrick McLinden. I've been an Outdoor Leader at the Urban Ecology Center for just under two years now. I work at the Menomonee Valley Center branch, and can't imagine my life without my job. For the past two years, it's been an absolute pleasure to laugh and smile when friends and family members tell me how much they wish they had my job.  Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I'd be working for the Urban Ecology Center. I remember my elementary school field trips to the Center, as well as the adolescent me joyously awakening to yet another day of summer camps. I remember my first day as a volunteer, and my first time at the Washington Park Urban Ecology Center seven years ago.

The Urban Ecology Center provided me with educational opportunities, unparalleled nature experiences, and memories to last a life time all before the age of 15! I was 14 when I applied for the Outdoor Leader program, and about a month after my 15th birthday, I was hired.  It was Washington Park Community Program Coordinator Erick Anderson, who had been my camp counselor as a child, who called me to congratulate me on being hired as an Outdoor Leader. Just as he made my dreams come true back then as a child, he was doing it once more, seven years later. After months of training and countless team building exercises, I was an official Outdoor Leader. It's been approximately 20 months since then, and looking back on it all sure doesn't seem like it's been that long.

I vividly remember one specific day, just last December, that I was coming into work. It was a seemingly normal Friday night. Clear sky, chilly winter air blowing, and the sun was just beginning to set. I was sitting at the front desk of the Center's Menomonee Valley branch when one of my fellow Outdoor Leaders walked in. A few minutes later, another. Minutes after that, yet another. Something wasn't quite right. We all kind of stared awkwardly at each other, until we asked why we thought we were there.

"A meeting perhaps?" said Andrea Gutierrez.

"I have no clue." said Damion Perry.

So we milled around for a few minutes, did a few miscellaneous tasks, and then we were all called upstairs.  The entire Menomonee Valley staff was standing around in the upstairs classroom. We came in, sat down, and there were a few questions on the board. We answered them on a small piece of paper until the white board was turned around to reveal the last question:

"What if we told you that we're here to celebrate how awesome you guys are!?"

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I remember this day because it validated all of our work, and more importantly, it reminded us of how closely we've all become. Working for the Urban Ecology Center is unique. Your co-workers aren't just your friends, they're your family. Through everything I don't look back at my times with the Urban Ecology Center and think about the work I've accomplished or the places I've been; I see my extended family. I see the friendships and relationships I've made. Ones that will last a life time.  I couldn't imagine my life without my co-workers. The Outdoor Leader program is far more than a job, it's a way of life; one I have no idea what I'm going to do without.The room was silent for the first one or two seconds until we finished reading the board, and then the entire room erupted into laughter. All the Outdoor Leaders each received hand made holiday themed 'Thank You' cards, all with hand written messages and remarks from the staff. I think I speak for all my fellow Outdoor Leaders when I say that we were all beholden.

While I count down the days to the end my internship, with full fledged angst, I'll also be smiling. Because I know that right after I leave, a new group of fantastic young individuals will take my place. They too will create new friendships and experience new things. All thanks, to the Urban Ecology Center.

We are currently accepting applications for the 2014 - 2016 High School Outdoor Leaders program. Find information and the application form here.



Patrick is a current high school Outdoor Leader.

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