The $755,000 Hank Aaron Challenge!

Written by Ken Leinbach
    Thursday, 19 February 2015
The $755,000  Hank Aaron Challenge!

Ce-le-brate good times, come on!
There’s a party goin’ on right here
A celebration to last throughout the years
So bring your good times
and your laughter too
We gonna celebrate your party with you

Do you remember that song from Kool and the Gang? Well guess what folks, we have our own Kool Gang and wow, do we have something to celebrate!

Drum roll please ... We did it! In partnership with the Menomonee Valley Partners we pulled off the largest project ever within the roughly 20-year history of the Urban Ecology Center. We keep pinching ourselves, but we really did it!

Seven years ago, we began a campaign to revitalize, connect and rejuvenate the Menomonee Valley area between Miller Park and the Mitchell Park Domes. When we conceptualized the fund raising goal, the Hank Aaron State Trail was only seven miles long. Where now exists the beautiful and hilly Three Bridges Park, there was a flat, mostly abandoned, fenced-off railroad yard that few ever noticed. Many of the local residents hadn’t a clue that one of the best urban fishing streams in the country, the Menomonee River, actually bordered their neighborhood because there was no way to get to it! No one could easily bike to a baseball game or get a pizza at Palermo’s even though they lived just a stone’s throw away. There was no Urban Ecology Center at 37th and Pierce Street.

Fast forward to today, however, and all that has changed. We’re celebrating because the whole thing -- our new Urban Ecology Center branch, the completely constructed and planted 24-acre Three Bridges Park, the complicated design and construction of three beautiful pedestrian bridges, creating community gardens and doubling the length of the Hank Aaron State Trail* — its all done! We even covered the cost of doing Center programs throughout the construction timeline as well as the important work of setting up an endowment for the long-term preservation of the park we created. All this work came with a whopping $25 million collective price tag.

It took quite the “gang” to pull this off. This Kool project epitomizes the “many hands make light work” philosophy that is now embedded within our work culture. It took three nonprofits (Urban Ecology Center, Menomonee Valley Partners and Friends of Hank Aaron State Trail) and help from City, County, State, Federal and Tribal governments, tens of thousands volunteer hours, 73 corporate donors, 30 foundations, 244 individual donors, in-kind contributions from local businesses and help from the media ... truly just about everyone!

We closed this campaign down in a very unique fashion too. A little over a year ago we felt that we had asked just about everyone in Milwaukee and were still short by a little over $1.5 million dollars. Then in August we “pitched” an idea to an anonymous donor. This donor sized up the pitch and knocked it out of the park! To honor Hank Aaron’s 80th year, this donor offered us $755,000 if we could match it. The number 755 is significant as it reflects Hank Aaron’s incredible accomplishment of hitting 755 career home runs. The Challenge also honors Hank Aaron’s involvement in this project which doubled the length of his namesake -- the Hank Aaron State Trail.

We spent the fall quietly sharing this challenge with many in the community and, once again, the community responded in force. It was amazing! I love this town. Then, with this simple email sent to us on Christmas Day from Marybeth Budisch of the Greater Milwaukee Foundation ...

Ken, Good news! The Enroth Family Fund is making a $100,000 grant to your 755 campaign. Merry Merry! MB

.... and suddlenly we were done.

This Christmas gift capped off the $755,000 Hank Aaron Challenge and the entire $25 million From the Ground Up Campaign!

... we did it!

Kool huh?

Thank you everyone!

It’s time to come together
It’s up to you, what’s your pleasure?
Everyone around the world come on!

*Can you believe that the Hank Aaron State Trail now runs from the Lake all the way out to the Zoo Interchange? And when the interchange is complete a short link is in the plan which will connect the Hank Aaron State Trail to bike paths that will reach all the way to Madison!

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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