UC Green began in 1998 as University of Pennsylvania program titled UC Bright. The goal of this program was to enhance University City and the surrounding neighborhoods with adequate and decorative lighting. Neighborhood resident and University of Pennsylvania staffer, Esaul Sanchez, was the first Executive Director. With Esaul’s leadership, residents came together with a shared vision to create an organization that would “unite community organizations, city agencies, university students and residents in local greening efforts”.
Esaul 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 joined existing community greening advocates who had been working for decades in the neighborhood, and together they formed the new UC Green Tree Tenders group. 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.
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 the UC Green Pruning Club and UC Green Corps were created to maintain street trees planted by UC Green. Winnie Harris joined the staff of UC Green during this time. As Program Coordinator, Winnie 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. This was achieved by building partnership and fostering community collaboration.
In 2008, Sue Pringle was hired as UC Green’s third Executive Director. 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 and continued to lead University City and the surrounding communities in impactful tree planting, greening projects and land care. She activated volunteers from our area universities and residents alike. Winnie focused on greening education, both of youth through Green Corps and of adult 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 of friends, family, colleagues and mentees throughout the city that we grapple with to this day. Today, the Holly Street Neighbors Community Garden thrives in living and loving memorial to Winnie, its founder. Garden organizers and volunteers are committed to greener, safer communities, and the fight to end gun violence.
Sherilyn Billger 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 2018, Kiasha Huling began leading UC Green. Her goals of equitable and accessible greening led to increased engagement of populations who experience barriers to greening and tree planting. An advocate for healthy communities, she focused on environmental greening as a path to wellness, safety and social cohesion. During her tenure, vibrant spaces like Holly Street Neighbors Community Garden were supported, 300 trees were planted, and 52 neighbors were welcomed as Tree Tenders. She also founded the Arbor & Art fundraiser, showcasing vibrant local artists and small businesses while fundraising for UC Green. She stewarded collaborative grant proposals, bringing vital sources of funding to allow for expanded organizational efforts. And her exceptional leadership and tireless efforts helped guide the organization through the troubled times of the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing UC Green to truly grow and thrive despite very difficult years.
In 2022, Kiasha passed the torch of leadership to Dominique London, a native of Southwest Philadelphia. With a background in city planning and public health, a wealth of experience in organizing and social justice, and an absolute passion for equitable and cooperative community greening, Dominique is poised to steward the organization into the future.
Today, UC Green continues to improve our neighborhoods. Through partnerships and education, we empower volunteer environmental stewardship in University City and its surrounding communities.