Tia Richardson on Membership: An Extension of My Community and of My Home

Written by Brittany Peters
    Wednesday, 27 April 2016
Tia Richardson on Membership: An Extension of My Community and of My Home

Tia Richardson is a Milwaukee-based community artist who provides visual arts programming as a tool for community-building for young people and adults, focusing on how community art reinforces empathy and cooperation with one another. She met Davita and I at Menomonee Valley one afternoon to share how she became a member of the Urban Ecology Center about two years ago, and how membership continues to provide her with an essential extension of her community and her home.

It started with kayaking. My mom bought me a kayak trip with a friend of hers for my birthday one year and he took me down the Milwaukee River. I had never been kayaking before, but I was hooked! It was like, how can I have access to kayaks on a regular basis? I knew the Center had equipment, so I came here and tried it out. Then I basically kayaked the same leg of the river every single time I went out because that’s what I knew. And then last year I discovered cross country skiing.

Brittany & Davita: *With excitement and in unison* Oooo! Tell us that story!

Well, it was getting towards the end of summer and the season was changing, but I didn’t want to stop being outdoors. Once the snow began to fall, I borrowed some skis and thought to myself, okay, now what can I do with these? I ended up going by myself the first time and I started out slowly, but I’m not an adrenaline junky, so taking in the scenery is just fine!

The Center really has been a major resource for me to get more exposure to outdoor recreation and know where and how to do things outdoors. I’m an adventure person; when I see something new, I think to myself oh, I want to try that!  And then I look for all of the resources I can to help me do it. So, I always recommend the Urban Ecology Center to people because it’s a huge asset. If I hear someone talk about doing things outdoors I’ll tell them they can come borrow all kinds of things like bikes and camping equipment, and even take classes. The main thing I tell them is that it’s only $35 or $45 a year and you have access to all of this stuff for free! It’s amazing.  (It’s true! Learn more about the unique benefits of membership here!)

Once, when I came back to return a pair of skis, I ran into Lainet (one of our Community Programs Coordinators at Menomonee Valley). She was off work at the time, but she was out skiing in the football field behind Riverside and she gave me an impromptu lesson. That was the foundation of my skiing lessons. I went out four times that week and got a little better each time. That’s another thing that I love about this place: the people are so accessible; they’re always willing to do things with you and share their knowledge. When I asked about good areas for kayaking (so I could see more than that one stretch of the river!) one of the staff printed out an entire map of the Milwaukee River for me and told me how to go online and look at the different river levels. I’m a person that really soaks up information, so when I find someone who’s willing to share information with me like that, it’s just invaluable!

We need more spaces like this to make recreation available, learning space available, knowledge available. I come into contact with so many students and people who don’t have strong connections to their community or neighborhood resources. This place provides the community with so many things that people typically don’t have access to, either because it’s elite, or the cost of programming is too expensive. But as I was walking up here, the main feeling that I got is that it’s an extension of my home, an extension of my community. And when I say that, I really do feel like I can leave home, come here, walk through the doors and it’s an extension of my home, or my block. Between Washington Park, Riverside and Menomonee Valley I’m always seeing a familiar face, and it’s such a nice, welcoming feeling.

To have that kind of accessibility and feeling of comfort is a privilege, and what I would call a necessity. It’s not just a benefit; it’s something we all need; a basic human need. To live in a city and walk into a space and feel like you’re at home satisfies our most basic human desire to feel like we belong and connect somewhere. This place has opened me up to entirely new group and community of people, and personally, it makes my life more enriched.

Special thanks to Davita Flowers-Shanklin who assisted with the interview and editing of this article.


Brittany Peters

Brittany Peters

Brittany is the Membership & Development Systems Coordinator at the Urban Ecology Center. She is thrilled to part of an organization that teaches kids about science and inspires everyone to get outside and experience nature in our city. When she’s not entering data, poring over spreadsheets, or connecting with our incredible members and volunteers, she enjoys hiking, spying on birds with her binoculars, jumping for joy when she can accurately identify one, and figuring out how to fit one more houseplant in her living space


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