Four skilled and smart young women of color have been selected as the inaugural class of Environmental Justice Fellows in Newburgh, a program funded by the Arbor Day Foundation and TD Bank.
A partnership among the city’s Conservation Advisory Council (CAC) and two nonprofits — the Greater Newburgh Parks Conservancy (GNPC) and Outdoor Promise — won the $19,000 grant that created the program. Rooted in community engagement and outreach through a range of traditional and social media platforms, the program will culminate in the October planting of 16 trees throughout the city, a celebratory event, a program report with data and recommendations, and an online street-tree course available to the greater Newburgh area.
The four Fellows will be walking through the city, listening to residents’ concerns about trees and educating folks about the benefits of restoring Newburgh’s tree canopy.
The four Fellows chosen to serve in the 28-week Environmental Justice Fellowship program are:
• Heidy Bonilla. Originally from Honduras, Bonilla is a highly motivated student and fluent Spanish-speaker who looks forward to working with residents who want to improve their environment but don’t yet have the communication skills to do so.
• Ameesah Cotten. Born and raised in Newburgh, Cotten is a two-sport college athlete who thoroughly understands the connection between environmental justice and her chosen academic major, public health.
• Kathryn McKenzie. McKenzie grew up in Newburgh and is a professional dancer and avid student of herbology. She brings boundless energy to the complex intellectual, social and physical tasks involved in the Fellowship.
• Marichen Montiel. Montiel graduated from the Nora Cronin Presentation Academy and NFA and is now a student at Mount Saint Mary College, where she founded Sustain MSMC, a conservation group on campus, and also serves on the Environmental Stewardship Council there. She, too, is a fluent speaker of Spanish.
The Fellowship is designed to train and support these talented and service-minded young women in tree-based environmental justice work at the community level. They will use their new street tree skills to engage their families, friends, neighbors and local businesses in thinking about how best to dramatically increase the number of trees in Newburgh. The four Fellows will be walking through the City listening to residents’ concerns about trees, educating folks about the benefits of restoring Newburgh’s tree canopy and motivating Newburghers to take action.
“These dynamic women will be coming to your neighborhood soon. Be sure to give them your honest opinion about what you see as the pros and cons of having a tree in front of your building,” said Genie Abrams, a volunteer with the CAC.
Kathy Lawrence, board chair of the GNPC, added, “Each of our Environmental Justice Fellows brings unique strengths to this program. We are excited to have these committed, enthusiastic young women serving as teachers, role models and stewards of our environment.”
Ronald Zorrilla, executive director of Outdoor Promise, said, “Trees clean the air, soil and water, regulate the temperature outdoors, reduce flooding and noise, are associated with reduced incidence of asthma and other lung diseases, and provide shade and beauty for everyone. The planting of more trees will benefit the health of our residents and help redress the longstanding disparity between the health of our black and brown residents and the general population in Newburgh.”
The Arbor Day Foundation is the largest nonprofit membership organization dedicated to planting trees. Their vision is to help others understand and use trees as a solution to many global issues, including air and water quality, climate change, poverty and hunger.