At Ease with Brushwood Center


Can you think back to a time when nature helped you heal an emotional wound or lightened your mental fatigue? Can you recall a hike in the woods that made you feel whole again? If you are fortunate, you have contact with nature—and its healing effects—every day. Brushwood Center launched an initiative in 2015 to help veterans in the greater Chicago and Lake County communities connect with nature by offering resources and programming that promotes the importance of nature for nurturing personal and community wellbeing, cultivating creativity, and inspiring learning. This initiative is called: At Ease.

Our inspiration:

At Brushwood, people grow and learn together every day. And they return when the world is a bit too demanding and they need to reconnect—with themselves, with others, and with the larger community of life. In a community that values open spaces, trails and natural areas, and seeks time in nature for inspiration we believe veterans who spend quality time in nature can find many benefits, feel healthy, more confident to express their creative side, and discover that time in nature is simply good for us.

When Kiki Hampton returned to the United States after six years in the Army, she used her military benefits to earn Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, but she found her transition to civilian life very difficult. She suffered from severe depression and anxiety, conditions that occur more often in veterans than in the general population. She sought help from a community mental health service agency, who in turn referred her to a partnership with Brushwood Center that surrounds veterans with a supportive environment in the beautiful Ryerson woodlands.

Kiki says that her trips to Brushwood for the monthly nature photography workshop bring her peace of mind. “When I feel down, I look at my pictures,” she says. She has taken thousands of photographs since the program began a two years ago. “By getting the skills here, you find nature in the city too: Lake Michigan, flowers, the moon.” At Ease supports Kiki and the other veterans enrolled in the program to feel a little more at peace.

Become a Partner:

Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods collaborates with partners, such as Thresholds and Lovell Veterans Hospital, to customize programming that suits the interests and abilities of veterans and that uniquely nurtures personal and community wellbeing, cultivates ones own creativity, and inspires learning.

Our History:

Exactly 50 years the Ryerson Family began to donate the lands that would become the Ryerson Conservation Area. They wanted to “provide a tranquil place for future generations to enjoy an unspoiled woods and river setting in ways consistent with the qualities of remoteness and peace.” At Ease is our way of sharing this amazing place with the veteran men and women and their families of our armed services.

At Ease at Brushwood Center offers a variety of programming designed to engage veterans and family, caseworkers and others, in nature-centered activities that inspire creativity, promote learning, and support wellbeing. The programs are designed for all veterans and can serve between 3-10 people at a time. Each program/workshop can be made available weekly, monthly, or on request throughout the year. The programs are offered by Brushwood Center in cooperation with the talents and time of consultants and instructors from our community. The duration of the programs and workshops vary, for example Trees and Trails is offered as a stand-alone program, but the Weaving program is offered as a 4-workshop series. Programs can run anywhere between 2 to 6 hours.

At Ease Program Offerings include:

Nature Journaling Workshop:

During this 3-hour workshop, you will make your own nature journal, learn techniques during a sketching demonstration and hike the trails, stopping along the way to observe and sketch the nature around you at Ryerson Woods. Have you ever wished you could stop what you’re doing to watch the birds bathing in a puddle or follow an ant trail to the source? Then, this workshop is for you. When we look closely at things in nature we make some of our best memories… and yet we take little time in our busy lives to be in nature. Nature Journaling gives us a chance to quietly be part of nature and watch as it unfolds before us. Taking time to deepen the way we observe nature can help us feel more creative, restore our energy and happiness, and inspire us to explore, more. By observing, questioning and documenting your experiences in a nature journal, you are participating in a process that is as old as humans are! From cave drawings to Egyptian pyramids and Myan art, people have used drawings to capture what they see in the world and to help tell a story in their own way. Nature Journaling will help you explore your creative side and feed your desire to get closer to nature.

At Ease: Trails and Trees

Take a guided tour with arborist, John Eskandari, Urban Planstman, to identify trees as you wander through Ryerson Woods. Participants will learn how to identify trees, understand their role in the forest, and explore the creatures that depend on them for food, shelter and habitat. This 3-hour workshop includes a short presentation on the history of trees in Chicago and Northern Illinois and the efforts in place to preserve the unique flora of Ryerson Woods.

Navajo Weaving Workshop:

Four, 3-hour nature-inspired workshops. Journey with Navajo-trained artist and weaver, Dolores Diaz, as she teaches you how to work with a loom to create your own personalized weaving at the historic Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods. During each session, you will explore the legacy of generations of Navajo weavers and join in the making of your own design while taking this personal journey through weaving. Each workshop will include a walk along the paths of Ryerson Woods. These hikes will help participants find inspiration while considering the beauty and the legacy of the people who came before us on this land. Looms and material will be provided.

At Ease Photography Workshop(s):

Receive basic instructions in using a digital camera, lessons in nature photography in the field, and explore storytelling through photographs. This photography program takes place in the classroom and outdoors. Workshops will cover subjects such as: techniques for capturing light and shadows, weather such as storm clouds, best way to capture birds and animals on the go, creating optimum compositions to improve your technique, macro-images…zooming in on nature, mushrooms, moss and lichen, and other nature mysteries that unfold to the mindful observer. (Cameras are available but participants must provide their own memory cards).

Brushwood Center Garden Tea, Talk & Tour

Learn about Brushwood Center Gardens and the transformation from ornamental flower garden to a sustainable native plants garden. The presentation will also include the container garden experiment featured on Brushwood’s front porch. Presented by Leigh Stewart, president of Brushwood WildBunch, this presentation will include coffee, tea and cookies and will be followed by a tour of the gardens. The workshop begins with a presentation, then, during a break, attendees are invited to wander through the Brushwood Art Gallery. Participants will then head out to the gardens to learn about the unique native plantings. Afterward, you are guided to the Ryerson prairie where you’ll observe native plants in their natural environment.

Other At Ease Programs include:

  • Rain Date-short film inspired by Nature followed by group discussion
  • Monarch Butterflies and how to create a Safe Have in your Yard
  • Introduction to Watercoloring
  • Creative Writing for Nature Lovers
  • Adult Coloring and demonstration
  • Nature Collage and Photography
  • Front Porch Music Jam – bring your instruments, share music, and jam
  • Gourd Carving
  • How to grow your own garden in containers
  • Story hour: learn techniques to tell a great story and practice it in a group

If your veterans group has a wish for programming that doesn’t appear on this list, don’t worry! We can accommodate most interests!

Contact Us to Learn More:

If you or someone you know is interested in learning more about At Ease and our program offerings, please contact:

Catherine Game
Executive Director

Our Mission:

Located in the Ryerson family historic home among pristine woodlands, Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods promotes the importance of nature for nurturing personal and community well-being, cultivating creativity and inspiring learning. In so doing, we honor the legacy of those who came before us on this land and champion a region where people will care about and for nature.