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The “Heartbeat” of a Community

Written by Celia Benton
    Wednesday, 12 March 2014
The “Heartbeat” of a Community

It was another sunny day in the Menomonee Valley. Delma placed the stethoscope against a gnarly tree branch in Three Bridges Park. Her eyes grew wide and she shouted “I can hear it! The tree has a pulse!”

Several minutes, and several tree pulses later, Delma approached me and said, “My grandfather in Mexico used to place his ear to the ground and say he could hear the heartbeat of the earth. Is it true that the earth has a heartbeat? Now that I’ve heard the pulses of the trees I think he is right.” It was one of the most profound and beautiful statements I have ever heard, and it came from a seventh grader.

From what I saw, Delma was similar in many ways to other seventh graders — within minutes of her statement she was off joking, laughing and being a little mischievous with her friends — but her comment deeply resonated with me. Even though I have not seen her in months, I still enjoy telling this story.

Delma is one of the hundreds of students learning in the Valley every weekday. Through NEEP (our Neighborhood Environmental Education Program), students are picking up trash, planting native species, testing water quality, cross-country skiing on the Hank Aaron State Trail or simply playing games in the prairie. While each activity connects students to life in the Valley a little differently, it’s all a lot of fun. 

I am fascinated with how many connections are made in the Menomonee Valley every day. Everything — people of all ages using the new Three Bridges Park, wonderful-smelling grey headed coneflower seeds, hawks, field mice, snakes and more — combines together to make the Valley what it is today, a place full of life, love and wonder.

At the Urban Ecology Center we frequently discuss how to support and become part of, our local communities. Everyone has a different story about what we do here at the Center, and I think Delma’s story sums it up well: we help build community by connecting people to life in their local environment. In Delma’s case, this connection also brought her closer to her family and perhaps gave her a little more respect and awe for our planet Earth.


For the 2013-2014 year, the Neighborhood Environmental Education Project is supported by*: 

BMO Harris Bank
The Caterpillar Foundation
CH2M Hill - Milwaukee Office
Harley-Davidson Foundation, Inc.
JPMorgan Chase Bank
KEEN, Inc.
Potawatomi Bingo Casino Miracle on Canal Street
Rockwell Automation
Runzheimer International


*Last updated 3/14/14

Photo Credit: Image by John Suhar
Celia Benton

Celia Benton

As an environmental educator in the Menomonee Valley, Celia Benton loves watching students express their sense of wonder and awe at the many creatures big and small found near the Center. In addition to being an educator, Celia is a professional urban planner and novice baker. Celia also loves to travel, but feels terribly guilty every time she leaves her three cats at home - including one she adopted as a Peace Corps Volunteer in El Salvador. Yes, this cat does speak Spanish. "Miau" 

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