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Your Winter Living Room

Written by Ken Leinbach
    Wednesday, 27 December 2017
Your Winter Living Room

As the first snow flurries fell back in November, we hosted a breakfast tour to promote work of the Center. With a fire crackling in the wood stove of Riverside Park, the group had the opportunity to see an elementary school class slide into the building; boisterous laughter and chatter, followed by a miraculous corralling of the kids into a circle by our educators. With the kids now paying perfect attention, the educators say, “This is your Urban Ecology Center. Come back whenever you’d like!”

Feeling the tangible energy in the room, one tour attendee commented, “I’m going to come here and just read a book. What a wonderful place to be.”

When I describe the Center to someone who is interested in our work, I often share our impact on kids and neighborhoods, our work in park restoration and our plans for the future. However, the real “aha” moment often comes when I describe the experience of visiting one of our branches. I invariably conclude, “The best way to understand the Urban Ecology Center is to come see for yourself.”

We like to call our lobbies “living rooms”. They are designed to provide comfort and a bit of respite. From adults reading to teens hanging out after school to children in our educational programs, our branches are full of life. A similar sentiment was shared in a conversation between two daytime visitors that I happened to overhear recently. One asked the other why he used the Center’s Wi-Fi to do his work instead of going to the nearby coffee shop. He answered, “I always hear laughter here.”

The laughter is infectious and echoes through the building, creating a warm feeling during a gray Wisconsin winter day.

A great snowfall brought a bustle of members into our Washington Park branch to borrow our winter equipment. They learned how to cross-country ski from Erick, one of our educators, the previous Saturday and were ready to hit the trails. Others took snowshoes for a weekend trip, glad that they could borrow them for three days to take them “up north”. Soon, laughter floated through our building from kids and adults coming in from ice skating on the lagoon. Excited little voices shared stories with anyone who’d listen as the adults made plans for another play date.

They were beating the winter blues UEC style, outdoors and active.

Last winter break, Carijean, one of our staff, had a surprise visit from a friend and his family at our Menomonee Valley branch. “They all looked a little worn out from the cold,” she said, “so we warmed up with some hot chocolate.” She continued, “The kids found the board game collection and they spent the rest of the afternoon on the couch laughing and playing one game after another – some for the first time! It gave the adults a much needed rest.”

It was a quiet break from being in the house, but still feeling at home.

Whether you’re inspired to try experiencing the winter weather in a new way, wanting to sit by the fire and read a book, or spending an afternoon playing a board game with your family, you will find joyful faces and a home away from home. And you will hear laughter! I invite you to come see the UEC for yourself this winter.

UEC hours (may be different during holidays):

Riverside Park
Monday – Thursday, 9 a.m. - 7 p.m.
Friday & Saturday, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Sunday, Noon - 5 p.m.

Washington Park
Tuesday-Thursday, Noon - 7 p.m.
Friday, Noon - 6 p.m.
Saturday, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Sunday & Monday, Closed

Menomonee Valley
Tuesday-Thursday, Noon - 7 p.m.
Friday, Noon - 6 p.m.
Saturday, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Sunday & Monday, Closed

Ken Leinbach

Ken Leinbach

Ken is a nationally recognized educator and leader in community-based environmental education. He currently serves as the Executive Director of the Urban Ecology Center. With his contagious energy, Ken speaks on a number of topics including: urban education, community organizing, environmental issues, finding abundance, the power of story, sustainable design, the need for "near-by" nature, leadership, fundraising, and green living. Ken holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Antioch College in Ohio, a Masters degree in Environmental Education from Prescott College in Arizona and received an honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from the Milwaukee Instituted of Art and Design.

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