UC Green has evolved from its early start as a 1998 University of Pennsylvania’s Facilities and Real Estate Services program titled UC Bright. The goal of this program was to enhance University City and the surrounding neighborhoods which adequate and decorative lighting. Neighborhood resident and Penn staffer, Esaul Sanchez, was the first executive director. The vision of an organization that would “unite community organizations, city agencies, university students and residents in local greening efforts” was born.
Esaul Sanchez recruited a team of volunteers from the community, Penn’s staff, and student body to attend the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s Tree Tenders training. These volunteers would then go on to form the new UC Green Tree Tenders group and launch a series of tree and public landscape plantings. Many still serve today as UC Green’s Founding Volunteers.
In its first year, UC Green completed over 20 individual block greening projects. With this experience under its belt, UC Green began first-in-the-city large-scale community tree plantings. Hundreds of volunteers planted hundreds of street trees. In these early years, UC Green also completed new landscapes for public schools, public health centers, and public gardens. These landscapes featuring plants native to the area, including those found in Bartram Gardens, showy exotics, and medicinal plantings.
In 2003, UC Green hired Amanda Benner as its second executive director. Amanda worked to establish UC Green as an independent non-profit organization with its own 501(c)(3) status. During Amanda’s tenure she initiated the UC Green Pruning Club and UC Green Corps to maintain mature street trees planted by UC Green. Winnie Harris joined the staff of UC Green during this time. As Program Coordinator she stewarded strong community relationships and infused UC Green Corps with compassion, accountability, ethics and excellence. Between 2003 and 2011, UC Green planted over 3,800 new street trees in University City, including those on streets and triangles in Powelton Village near Drexel University! The was achieved by building partnership and fostering community collaboration.
In 2008, Sue Pringle was hired as UC Green’s third executive director. In addition to UC Green’s previous initiatives, Sue expanded the scope of UC Green’s environmental activities by partnering more closely with Woodland Cemetery, Bartram’s Garden, Spruce Hill Bird Sanctuary; and the Walnut Hill Community Garden. In addition, UC Green helped neighborhood volunteers construct and maintain beehives and built several community gardens.
In 2012, Winnie Harris became the interim executive director with the departure of Sue Pringle. Winnie continued to lead University City and the surrounding communities in impactful tree planting, greening projects and land care. She active volunteers from our area universities and residents alike. Winnie focused on greening education of both youth through Green Corps and of residents through direct engagement.
Tragically, Winnie was taken from her family, our community and this world on February 3rd 2017 through an act of random and senseless gun violence. A loss that was experienced in the hearts for friends, family, colleagues and mentees throughout the city that we grapple with to this day.
Sherilyn Billinger and Ethan Leatherbarrow stepped in during this time to bravely continue UC Green’s commitments to greening in our catchment. At the end of 2018, UC Green reported planting a total of 4,623 trees and thousands of coordinated volunteer hours.
In November of 2018, Kiasha Huling began leading UC Green. Kiasha brought with her goals for equitable and accessible greening in 19104, 19139 and 19143. UC Green increased outreach and engagement to focus on communities and populations who experience barriers to greening and tree planting. An advocate for healthy communities, Kiasha oriented the organization toward environmental greening as a path to wellness, safety and social cohesion in West and Southwest Philadelphia.
Today, UC Green continues to improve our neighborhoods. Through partnerships and education we empower volunteer environmental stewardship in University City and its surrounding communities.