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Why are You Here?

Written by Willie Karidis
    Tuesday, 27 August 2013
Why are You Here?

I have been working here at Washington Park for three years now and I must say that they have been three of the most memorable years of my life! I've had the opportunity to meet and work with so many wonderful people — our staff, volunteers and community members — as we continue to grow the Washington Park branch into a wonderful destination for all of Milwaukee. Each day we learn a little bit more about the park and the community. And each day we are connecting kids and families to nature. I never think of our work as a job. It is a way of life with priceless benefits measured in kindness, awareness and "aha" moments.

This past summer there were a couple of tragic incidents on the periphery of the park. Through all the turmoil and negative press there came a recurring question — why is the Urban Ecology Center here? The simple answer: being a positive presence in the community contributes to positive change. It is the most important time of all to be in Washington Park.

The reality is this: when you are working toward a goal, a community effort to change the perspective of how people view a place, it takes time. Hearing stories about the origins of the Urban Ecology Center in Riverside Park and the challenges they faced there keeps the journey we are facing at Washington Park in perspective. Change, real change, takes time.

To me one of the greatest measures of the Urban Ecology Center's success comes from the people whose lives have been impacted the most. Darrin Madison (16) is currently employed as an Outdoor Leader here in Washington Park. However, his time with the Urban Ecology Center started in 2007 when the branch opened and he was 10 years old.

He writes, "When I first started coming here, there were people of all ages and we all looked out for each other. I remember building a snowball fortress and it never melted all winter. Sometimes we just sat in there and talked. Some of the most fun memories of my childhood. It's my home away from home. I never want to leave. If I could live here, I would."

Sounds like a good reason to be here, don't you think? But wait, there's more.

Kennedy Young (9) said, "We get to do lots of fun activities like sledding, ice skating and skiing in the winter and canoeing in the summer, it's awesome! Oh and feeding the animals, I like that."

Another good reason to be here! But wait, there's even more.
This past July, five Young Scientist Club members and volunteers along with four staff members attended Camp Snowball, a week long conference dedicated to Systems Thinking held at Wake Forest University in North Carolina.
Here's what some attendees had to say about the Urban Ecology Center and Camp Snowball.

"I wrote down ideas that could snowball," Kennedy's sister Jada (11) said, "how to stop bullying, and prevent kids from committing suicide. It made me think about innovating for a healthy future, it's important. Oh and we went to the aquarium and the zoo, it was cool because we saw a 2 headed turtle and it was alive."

"I learned how to create a snowball effect." Donald Harris (14) began, "If you do something good, it grows and gets bigger and bigger, it snowballs. It's all about innovation, you start with an idea and then it keeps building, it grows. I look at the Urban Ecology Center and say WOW! It started as an idea and now it is something so much greater than the idea."

His brother Donovin (12) added, "When you innovate you make things better for the future. I want to help make our school be more kid friendly and help to get teachers to understand their students better. The Urban Ecology Center gives neighborhoods opportunities to do things outside that they don't normally do so it makes the community better. I want to be in the NFL but when I get to college I want to study Marine Biology."

Liam Darby (14) a dedicated volunteer and former Young Scientist Club member had this to say, "I felt privileged to spread our mission throughout the rest of the nation and for that matter the world. We are all a family here, if somebody gets knocked down we help each other up. Everybody here is a little piece of the puzzle which keeps the [Center] moving forward and I feel like a piece of the puzzle. The mission will stay ingrained in me for the rest of my life. That's what I like about the [Center]. We are doing the things that are needed to help the world. "

The Urban Ecology Center is in Washington Park to help shape young lives, build lifetime memories and bring the community closer. Together with Milwaukee County Parks, Washington Park Partners, our visionary donors and the surrounding community we are dedicated to helping create a vibrant Park rich in diversity. Please join us for the ride and be part of a legacy of which Milwaukee will always be proud.

Willie Karidis

Willie Karidis

Willie Karidis was born and raised in Milwaukee then took off for Denali National Park, Alaska, spending 25 years enjoying the wilderness of the Big Country. Gold mining in the bush, roofing in the Aleutian Islands and discovering the furthest inland whale in North American history were adventurous days. Working as the Executive Director of the Denali Education Center for 16 years was a time of wonderful exploration. 

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