Episode 95

Published on:

21st Nov 2023

Blue Lotus Center with Michael Larson

This week, Michael Larson, Executive Director of Blue Lotus Center, joins me to talk about their facility and how it provides accessible outdoor recreation and therapeutic programming for people of all ages who are facing profound life challenges. Michael discusses Blue Lotus Center's mission to stimulate the human spirit through nature, upcoming fundraising events and programs on the horizon, and how you can get involved as a volunteer or donor. With 64 acres of beautiful day-camp facilities, Blue Lotus Center enriches lives every day, using the healing powers of nature connection, community, and hope.

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Fuzz Martin 0:08

Well Hello, thanks for tuning in downloading streaming, playing listening to this week's episode of Fifteen Minutes with Fuzz. I'm your host, Fuzz Martin, and each week, someone joins me to talk about all the fun and interesting and positive things happening in and around Washington County, Wisconsin. This is season three, it's episode 17 of season three, which is the 95th overall episode of the show. We're coming up quickly on episode 100. You want to know what's coming up on episode 100? Spoiler alert, I don't know yet. I've been very busy at work and I haven't had time to really figure that out. So it might just be a montage of puns. I don't know. But I can tell you what's going on this week. This week. I'm joined by Michael Larson. Michael is the executive director at Blue Lotus Center. Blue Lotus Center assists people of any age with profound life challenges by offering them accessible outdoor recreation and therapeutic opportunities in a caring, accepting and inspiring 64 acre daycamp setting. With that, here are 15 minutes on Blue Lotus center with Michael Larson on Fifteen Minutes with Fuzz.

Fuzz Martin 1:31

Michael, thank you for joining me today. For those who don't know, can you please tell us about Blue Lotus Center and what that does for those in our area?

Michael Larson 1:40

Yeah, absolutely. So Blue Lotus is a 501c3 nonprofit that has been around for 20 years. We started because our founders Fred and Susan Bluford inherited 64 acres of beautiful property in the West Bend area, and realize it in need that for themselves. They wanted to share it with others. So they formed a partnership with the Milwaukee Center for Independence for people who participated that place to come up to West Bend and have a day of summer camp of outdoor recreation on this beautiful property. And from there, things just grew, you know, and the Blue Lotus Center now partners with over 60 organizations that serve people with disabilities and other significant life challenges.

Fuzz Martin 2:23

Well, okay, so what is the official mission, then a Blue Lotus Center wouldn't? What makes your therapeutic outdoor programming unique? What is you know, what's, what's that mission?

Michael Larson 2:34

Our mission is to connect people to nature, okay, in a way that is safe and accessible, right, so that they can enjoy the same things that all Wisconsinites joy. I mean, how many people do you know in Wisconsin, who love to fish and hunt and boat and stuff? Like it's in our blood? Right, exactly. Right, exactly. And there are people with disabilities who love doing that kind of thing, too. But their opportunities for access are limited. You know, it's not as readily available for people when there are barriers related to mobility, or for people with cognitive disabilities, or people who are in memory care, like these things, sometimes create barriers to do those things that most of us take for granted. We break down those barriers, and give people access so that they can enjoy all the same like health and therapeutic benefits, and just joy of being outside that we take for granted.

Fuzz Martin 3:26

That's awesome. That's super cool. And it's amazing that we have that right here in the West Bend area. Can you tell us about some of the different kinds of things that they experience while they're at Blue Lotus? What kind of programming Do you have? And what kind of, you know of those experiences? are they receiving?

Michael Larson 3:47

Yeah, so we have 64 acres of forest, meadows and wetland, okay, and it's a beautiful property. I highly encourage you and your listeners to come visit us sometime and just see like how wonderful it is, includes a four acre pond that people can vote on. We have pedal boats, we have canoes, we have kayaks, we have an accessible dock that makes it easy to load and unload in those boats. If you have mobility challenges, we have fishing off the dark and the blue gills are so used to being fed, then catching fish is like it's the easiest fishing to do in your life. We had one one man out from from a memory care facility who came out and caught 56 fish. He just stayed out there all day. But it was a beautiful thing, you know, to be able to give him that experience and he just loved it. We also have accessible trails, you know, some place for people to hike and explore. We have a swimming pool, which is kind of a highlight for a lot of especially the kids that come out. Yeah. But sometimes the adults do. They love it. It's kind of wheelchair lift, okay, and we have a changing room that people can go with an adult changing table that's nomadic, so that people in a wheelchair for example can get in get changed in dignity. Yeah, and then be able to go swimming. There are people who Come out to the Blue Lotus Center, the only pool they ever swim in, you know, because that that privacy of it and the accessibility of it is so high. We have a beautiful labyrinth, which is a tool for meditation or prayer. And it's a place that people can go. And if you just need some time to get away to relax and rejuvenate several of the guests that come out, maybe have sensory. There's sensory overload, and being able to have a quiet space like that is good. And then we have all sorts of lawn games that people can play. We have a pavilion, people picnic out there, and just come and have a good time. i

Fuzz Martin 5:36

It sounds like you take a lot out of this as well. And you recently joined Blue Lotus, can you tell us about how you got here?

Michael Larson 5:44

Yeah, that's great. So my background in school was a conservation and environmental science, I thought I wanted to work with animals. So I went into that for a little bit. I was a wildlife rehabilitator. And after doing that, for five years, I actually realized I like people more than animals. As much as I love the animal work like I was I was really a people person. So then I worked for many years for the Urban Ecology Center in Milwaukee, another fantastic nonprofit organization, and worked there as a manager for a long time, then I had a brief stint with 16th Street Community Health Center working in their environmental health department. So when this opportunity at the Blue Lotus Center came up to be the executive director, it was this kind of perfect marriage of all these experiences I had in the nature center space. And then in the environmental health space, being aware of how the places that we live, work, learn and play and our surroundings have a deep impact on our health. And there's very, very true for being outdoors and being in a beautiful sight like Blue Lotus. And so it's a perfect merger of that, but also just kind of my personal convictions for my personal or my faith life of caring for the marginalized. You know, and for people who are maybe sometimes overlooked in society. And it was it was just a wonderful match for me to step into there.

Fuzz Martin 6:56

That's wonderful. You're obviously enjoying it immensely. Tremendously.

Michael Larson 7:00

Yeah, it's it's a fantastic place. The people there are amazing. It's, I've loved every minute of it.

Fuzz Martin 7:06

So can you talk more about how being outdoors helps provide some of those therapeutic benefits for your guests at Blue Lotus?

Michael Larson 7:17

Oh, absolutely. So I believe that a lot of your listeners kind of already know this intrinsically. There's something about going outside, that's good for you. It's good for your body, good exercise, it's good for your mind, it's good for your soul. It's good for you emotionally, psychologically. And as time has gone on, more and more research is coming out from the scientific community that backs up that anecdotal experience that we all have. So for example, there's evidence that shows that spending time outside actually lowers your cortisol levels of cortisol is your stress hormone. So that has impact on your heart health, you know, certainly on your stress and anxiety, you know, and your psychological health and, and, and then a time when it feels like the burdens and the stress of society are so high on all of us. Right? Being able to access that to get outside to put away a screen for a while and actually experience just the rejuvenation and relaxation of being in a beautiful space is a huge, tremendous benefit to people. Which is why in addition to offering the participants for our guests to come out and experience the Blue Lotus Center, we also do a series of our self care Sundays, okay, which are really for anybody, you know, because we recognize that that everybody needs a little bit of self care. Yeah, right. And so we have this series going on this winter of Sundays, that people can come out and have that experience of the Blue Lotus Center as well. So

Fuzz Martin 8:42

you spoke a lot about, you know, fishing and hiking and such, when we get to the winter months, what kind of how does that experience change at Blue Lotus, for your guests? And in that, that outdoor kind of setting?

Michael Larson 8:55

So that's a good question. When I first started, I asked that same question. And I was like, what do we do for winter programming? And somebody told me, Well, I don't there's not that much to do out here during the winter. I smiled inside, you know, I used to run a gear library. So I kind of smiled outside and inside and I was like, Okay, what you just told me is that you're not a winter person. That you did that. That's not what you enjoy. But we got long winters. Yeah, Wisconsin. And if you don't have something that you do during the winter, it just gets longer. So I think we have a lot of opportunities to grow. Okay, this regard is having a great conversation with some of our partners who work with people in adult day services or with kids in special education classrooms. And they're like, yeah, like there's the the opportunities really go down. So we're actually working on developing some more opportunities for people to come out. In the winter. It's just still nascent. So we don't have like something immediately beyond the self care Sundays and a couple of groups here and there, but I think that's an opportunity for growth for us.

Fuzz Martin 9:58

Sure. It's something you recognize And then are looking to find new ways. Oh, absolutely, absolutely. Excellent. You've kind of touched on this a bit through your response to the other questions. But really what inspires or motivates you in this role as executive director at Blue Lotus Center?

Michael Larson:

That's a really good question. I think two things come to mind for me. One is just kind of the external aspect is the people that are there. Right, I have the best staff, just amazing people who have been there for a long time, who care deeply about the mission, who care deeply about our guests to come out. And as my role as the executive director, is to, to think about them to take care of them, to help them do their jobs as best as they can. So between them, and then the volunteers, the volunteer board is deeply engaged in the organization and has been for the last 20 years in a way that's really beautiful and helpful. As an executive director, I really appreciate that. Sure. And then the volunteers that come in with our groups, and the volunteers that come out and take care of our gardens, and the volunteers that come out and help in the office, like those connections with people really keep me going.

Fuzz Martin:

You mentioned the volunteers in staff, how many work with you? And then how many volunteers? Would you say that you that you need to run Blue Lotus Center?

Michael Larson:

Oh, great. That's an excellent question. So we have a small staff, right, we're very much boots on the ground, volunteer driven nonprofit. So there's four of us that are there year round, and then we hire three seasonal staff during the summer that come in. And there's only two of us that are full time. So it's a very small staff light, which means that we require a lot of volunteers to come out and help. And we have a few different categories. I think that's the one thing that if I were to say, you know, reach out with a need, yeah, right, like more volunteers are always welcome. And there's two things that come with that one. Yeah, we need your help. Like, we need people to help with our groups that come out to help people get in boats, help people go fishing, to sit down and talk to somebody, you know, and just carrying on a conversation, some of our senior groups that come out with the memory care units, they just want to sit by the pond and enjoy this surrounding and sitting there and just sharing stories and memories. Is is enough sometimes. So we need those volunteers for sure. We also need volunteers for our gardens. We have 64 acres. Yeah, you know, and some beautiful gardens, which contribute right to the enjoyment of the Center for our guests. And we have this excellent opportunity. We have a master gardener, her name is Suzanne Barker. And she comes out every Monday and has a garden party Mondays, where we have a group of people that come out and just work in the gardens. And it's kind of a social slash volunteer group. Yeah, that's, that's kind of cool. So so we have those needs for the volunteers. But also like, volunteers have needs to write like people volunteer out of the goodness of their heart, but they also get something in return and tell you like the experiences that you get to see as a volunteer at the Blue Lotus Center, you get to see people get in the kayak for the first time, we have adaptable bikes. So you see people who have never ridden a bike before, and they get to do it at school, or enjoy the joy of swimming in the swimming pool, you know, or we we raised Monarch caterpillars this year, and got to release some monarch butterflies, which just blows people's mind. They just love it, you know, to like, be at that up and close with such a beautiful creature. And so as a volunteer, you kind of get that benefit you I think that our volunteers get as much out of coming to the Blue Lotus Center as as our guests too. That's great. That's great.

Fuzz Martin:

So having 64 acres 64. And having you know, things like a swimming pool, and all this, it all takes resources to run. Right. So how can the community support Blue Lotus Center, either financially or through donations and those kinds of things?

Michael Larson:

Yep. That's thank you for asking, Well, if you know anybody that's got $20,000. Okay, we have a major, a tree tree planting project that we need to do we have a bunch of trees, of course, that that got ash trees that died because of the emerald ash borer. So we're removing trees, we're planting new ones. So we have a big project like that on the horizon that we really use support for. But beyond that, you know, like we are run almost 100% by donations, you know, we don't receive any federal or state money to do what we do. So we really rely on on regular contributors, the monthly contributors that give people who get write checks for $10 and stuff are incredibly valuable to us and to the philanthropic nonprofit community in general. You know, if I were to kind of try to convey to people just one ask, you know, it would be that everybody takes a look at at what they give and maybe just increase it a little bit. You know, like 1% Right, you know, year to year. This give you're giving increased, prompted and give to the blue For sure, but whatever charity is close to your heart, give to them. Right? And that little bit makes such a huge difference are the nonprofits and for the people that they serve.

Fuzz Martin:

We're coming up on December. Do you have any events or anything like that coming up that people can get involved with?

Michael Larson:

Sure. Yeah, yeah, we do. We have a couple of have a fun one. So on December 2, we're doing the Camino de Blue Lotus, which our founders, Fred and Susan Bliffert, and went with their family, and did the Camino de Santiago in Spain, which, if you're familiar, it's a 500 mile track across northern Spain. Well, following the route of St. James. So it's a pilgrimage. Yeah, and attack. So they did this 500 mile walk, which is unbelievable, you know, I got my huge props to them. They are doing a cultural event and sharing stories and music read as a gifted musician, he's going to be playing some music from Spain right now, as well as having some food. And then we're going to do our own little Camino. We're not going to make anybody walk 500 miles, but we're going to let people kind of walk the property and get a little certificate and passport stamps, like just like they do on the Camino. So that's not happening on December second, okay. All right, which was really a fun event. And then the other one that I want to highlight is I mentioned the self care Sundays, these are so this would be open to anybody in the public, both of these events are, but we have one and that cow and sound bath, okay? Self Care Sunday. So it's like, you come and you make your own like hot cocoa, essentially, like from scratch. And then you enjoy a sound bath, which is like, just like, a beautiful experience that's calming and relaxing and meditative. And it sounds like an amazing of that. And Laura Dumansky from Ananda, Healing Arts is coming and leading that event for us. That's going to be on December 17. Okay, you know, so you got the holidays coming up, you got a lot of stress and stuff like that. Maybe take an afternoon, yeah, on Sunday, the 17th by yourself and like, enjoy some relaxation, enjoy some peace, and come see what the Blue Lotus Center is all about.

Fuzz Martin:

That's awesome. So if people want to learn more about the events, people want to volunteer donate words, the best way to reach out,

Michael Larson:

Our website and social media are by far like the best ways to do that. Our website is theBlueLotuscenter.org. That distinction is important place in, in California, that's more like, like a meditation place sure that sometimes people redirect there, don't go there, theBlueLotuscenter.org. And you'll see the events right there on the main page, or on the Events tab that you can go and you can sign up right there really easily. And then the other thing I would encourage people to do is just follow us on social media. Well, you can sign up for our newsletter on on the website, give us your email address, but even easier, just follow us on Facebook and Instagram. And then you'll kind of see you know, all the things that are coming up, you'll get a sense of what's going on, check out our Facebook page, and then you'll you'll get a sense of all those events, we promote them on there. So that's a good way to kind of keep tabs plus, you also get to see a bunch of great pictures of people having fun. Yeah, Blue Lotus Center we have a very photogenic mission. There's, there's some really beautiful things that you can enjoy and experience on there as well.

Fuzz Martin:

Great. Michael, thank you so much for coming in. And thanks for all you do. And Blue Lotus Center does. And we really appreciate having you in the community.

Michael Larson:

Well, and likewise, thank you for all the work that you do. I've been listening to your podcasts and seeing and you interact with a lot of really great people in their community and promote them in a way that's really cool. So I highly recommend you know, I mean, your listeners already listening, but highly recommend anybody to listen to the show. It's a really neat, neat experience.

Fuzz Martin:

Thank you so much. I really appreciate that and makes me want to keep doing it all the time. So please do please do I get more out of this? I think then then some others do sometimes. Thanks again and we'll talk soon. Sounds great. Have a good one.

Fuzz Martin:

Thank you again to Michael Larson, the executive director at Blue Lotus Center. I appreciate you jumping in behind the mic for this week's show. Mike, if you find listener, have an idea for a guest to join me here on Fifteen Minutes with Fuzz, send me a note. Don't be bashful. I love getting emails, my email address is fifteenwithfuzz@gmail.com spell out the word 15. And again, fifteenwithfuzz@gmail.com. Or you can go to fuzz.cc/guest that's fuzz.cc/guests and use the form Luke. That was really dumb, but I'm gonna stick with it. New episodes come out every Tuesday. Thank you for listening. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family. And I will talk to you again next week. Right here on Fifteen Minutes with Fuzz.

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About the Podcast

Fifteen Minutes with Fuzz
Showcasing the positive things happening in Washington County, Wisconsin.
Fifteen Minutes with Fuzz is sheds light on all the great things going on in and around Washington County, Wisconsin. The host, Fuzz Martin, is a local business owner (EPIC Creative) and a former radio personality (92.5 WBWI - now Buzz Country). New episodes launch on Tuesday mornings. https://fifteenwithfuzz.com

Whether you're in West Bend, Kewaskum, Slinger, Hartford, Germantown, Richfield, Jackson, or anywhere else in the area, 15 Minutes with Fuzz serves the community with fun and positive people, places, events, and attractions.

About your host

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Fuzz Martin

Fuzz Martin is a partner and Chief Strategy Officer at EPIC Creative in West Bend, Wis.