How 'Wood' You Like to Wear Your Name Tag?

October 16, 2023

Washington Park

When I started at the UEC, I realized fairly quickly there was going to be a steep learning curve.

Not in the duties of my role. Those were well-defined.

Not when to speak up in meetings. All opinions are valued right from the beginning.

Not in navigating a new work culture. The UEC is rooted in compassion and kindness.

What I had to learn was the jargon, the slang, the lingo. And all the acronyms - we love an acronym here.

Some examples include:

Devvies = The Development Team

Cult of Phil = A Culture of Philanthropy

MV = Menomonee Valley

WP = Washington Park

RP = Riverside Park

NEEP = Neighborhood Environmental Education Project

Hickory Hollow, Dragonfly Pond, Pebble Beach, Coyote Hill and Turkey Run = specific locations in our parks

Woodshop Room, The Nest and Bat Cave = specific rooms at our various branches

But my favorite, and arguably everyone’s favorite, is wood cookie.

Picture this: fresh-faced me - ready to impress - in a meeting about an upcoming event. Someone mentions “wood cookies.” I’m thinking, “Do I have to bake cookies that look like trees?!”  I consider myself a decent baker but that skill set was not in the job description. I was in luck because a wood cookie is a NAME TAG.

A wood cookie is a small tree round with a hole drilled for string. We use them primarily for Summer Camp name tags. Each is unique and personable to the wearer.

Four elementary age kids and a UEC Educator wearing wood cookie nametags smile towards the camera.

I’d seen them everywhere too - swinging wildly from Summer Camper’s necks, perfectly decorated to fit each educator's personality, hanging at desk spaces and more. I just hadn’t put two and two together.

The Urban Ecology Center recently had a groundbreaking celebration for the rebuild of our Washington Park location. At this event, our guests made their own wood cookie name tags. They were a big hit.  Mayor Cavalier Johnson, one of the speakers, expressed his love of the wood cookies.

Mayor Cavalier Johnson speaking at groundbreaking celebration for the rebuild of our Washington Park location.
Mayor Cavalier Johnson speaking at groundbreaking celebration for the rebuild of our Washington Park location

“You know, I've known the County Executive, for gosh, more than half my life. We went to high school together and all that. Somebody told me that he was going to tell everyone, how back in high school I used to wear name tags all the time. These days I don't wear name tags because everybody knows I'm the mayor. But this one [holding up his wood cookie], provided by the Urban Ecology Center, this is the coolest name tag I’ve ever had in my life! So this time, I put this one on.”

So, where did wood cookies come from?

According to Matt Flower, one of our famous PEEP* educators, “We used to make name tags with construction paper and laminate them. It would take interns two or three full days to cut them out, write on names, laminate and string yarn. It took forever and they were junk... they would break and tear easily and were a pain to make corrections to.

I knew we had a great relationship with Mario at La Lune Collection and thought, maybe he could help us with making some name tags made out of wood. He said yes and the rest is history.  We've been using them for over 10 years now. Mario cuts a new batch for us each year - over 700!”

La Lune Collection is a local rustic furniture manufacturer.  They are one of the most eco-friendly furniture companies in the world. You have probably sat in their gorgeous craftsmanship at one of our branches.  

Wood cookies are a shining example of what we do every day:

  • making common items/concepts magical and memorable;
  • finding a more sustainable way of being;
  • discovering common ground to create belonging;
  • respecting and incorporating nature in everything we do;
  • and sharing fun!

I smile every time I see the handwritten wood cookies adorning someone’s neck. To work at a place where a name tag brings you and others so much joy, well, that’s pretty magical.

*Hey! Look! Another acronym! PEEP stands for Preschool Environmental Education Project which connects our littlest explorers to nature!

Past Employee
Guest Author
Development Communications Manager

Michelle is UEC's Development Communications Manager. With a degree in Zoology and Environmental Studies, she began her career as a zookeeper. An American badger remains her favorite animal - having raised one from a cub. After making some difficult professional decisions, Michelle ended up in the nonprofit sector where she’s happily stayed for 8+ years.  Having started in January 2022, she still feels incredibly lucky to be part of the UEC team - a team who, like her, cares deeply about the environment and those, both human and not, that depend on it. When she’s not at the UEC, you can find her exploring the outdoors with her husband, two young children and their deaf English setter.

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