City Celebrates Environmental Justice Program

NEWBURGH – The City of Newburgh Conservation Advisory Council (CAC) and two nonprofits, the Greater Newburgh Parks Conservancy (GNPC) and Outdoor Promise, sponsored a citywide celebration of the Environmental Justice Fellowship program on Saturday, November 06, 2021.

The program, funded by the Arbor Day Foundation and TD Bank, was created as a collaboration among the three groups to improve the city’s environmental, physical and emotional health, specifically in areas heavily populated by people of color, who have suffered disproportionately from the lack of urban tree canopy.

One lasting result of the Environmental Justice Fellowship (EJF) program was the planting of 16 trees throughout the city last week – four in each ward. The CAC matched that by using city funds to plant 16 trees in those same neighborhoods, to make an even stronger impact. The trees were planted on South Street, Carson Avenue, Prospect Street and First Street.

The project focused on community engagement on issues of environmental justice – especially urban trees. Project partners chose four young Fellows of color from within the City of Newburgh to receive a stipend for their EJF work. The Fellows have learned about trees, created English and Spanish surveys, and asked city residents and business owners about their desires and attitudes about trees. Survey responses, along with expressed commitment by Newburgh residents to care for the trees, informed where the trees were planted. The Fellows worked on an online tree course, also in English and Spanish, with photos, videos, and more. The course will soon be released publicly, to help the entire Newburgh community better understand the importance of trees and tree care and to open up opportunities to join a cadre of “tree champions” in Newburgh to educate others on the importance of urban trees.

The Fellows who served in this inaugural class of the Fellowship are Heidy Bonilla, Ameesah Cotten, Kat McKenzie and Marichen Montiel, all Newburgh residents ranging in age from 19 to 24.

“We have lost 4,000 trees in this city over the past few decades through neglect, lack of understanding and lack of funding, and we hope the success of this inaugural program will inspire a new appreciation for trees and their impact on our underserved neighborhoods,” said Ronald Zorilla, founder of Outdoor Promise.

“With this grant from TD Bank and the Arbor Day Foundation we created a highly successful public-private partnership and an Environmental Justice Fellowship program we hope to continue and expand in future years. Our ultimate goals are to support BIPOC leadership in the City of Newburgh, foster a culture of tree stewardship, and restore our urban tree canopy to the benefit of everyone in the City,” said Kathy Lawrence, chair of the GNPC.

Chuck Thomas, chair of the CAC, added, “We invite the entire city to come out to Tyrone Crabb Park, at South and Grand streets, at 2:00pm on Nov. 6 to enjoy refreshments and music with your neighbors, while learning more about trees and the Environmental Justice Fellowship program.”

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