PHILADELPHIA – Increasing greenspace in neighborhoods, planting trees, and cleaning vacant lots has been found to have a profound impact on the health and wellbeing of residents who live nearby, including reducing crime, improving heart health, and reducing depression. In an effort to increase community-based nature initiatives and improve health in Black and brown Philadelphia neighborhoods, Penn Medicine and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP)’s Deeply Rooted Collaborative, led by the Penn Urban Health Lab, launched a Community Green Grants program to fund local nature-focused projects. The first round of grants were announced this month, awarding $51,000 to 22 community leaders and organizations.
Community Green Grants support residents and leaders as they join together to care for, celebrate in, and appreciate nature in neighborhoods in West and Southwest Philadelphia. The inaugural grant awardees, decided by a panel of community partners, drive initiatives to support vacant lot cleanup, community space programing, bicycling groups, and more. A full list of awardees can be found here.
Grant awardee, Iresha Picot found joy in riding her bike around Philadelphia parks during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, but found many of her friends who grew up in the city didn’t know how to ride a bike. Through the Community Green Grants, Picot will use her funding to organize regular “Black Girl Joy Bike Rides,” in Cobb’s Creek, teach women how to ride a bike, and provide those without bikes the opportunity to apply for one of 10 annual Indego subscriptions.
“I grew up in Virginia in a neighborhood with lots of trees, but some blocks in Philly don’t have a single tree, and I learned you really have to seek out nature here,” Picot said. “I found so much joy riding my bike around, I want to bring together other Black women like me, and help them find that joy, too.”
Like Picot, Stephanie Scott, another grant awardee, found peace in nature during the pandemic. In the spring of 2020, she and her mother began cleaning an abandoned lot with help from the Community Life Improvement Program (CLIP) in Philadelphia. She will use her grant to continue to transform the lot into the Monarch Community Garden, with a range of nature-based programming, from educating residents on growing their own healthy foods, to yoga classes, to jazz concerts.
“There aren’t many places in our neighborhood where people of all ages can gather,” Scott said. “Many older people aren’t able to get out much, and some teens don’t have trusted adults to talk to about their lives. I want to create a place that welcomes everyone, where people feel safe and can talk to each other freely.”
The 22 grant awardees were selected from over 40 applicants, and selected by a panel of community partners, including Southwest Community Development Corporation, ACHIEVEability, Sister Clara Muhammad Community Development Corporation, and Community of Compassion Community Development Corporation. The community partners, along with the Penn Urban Health Lab, evaluated proposals based on their impact on the community, creativity of the proposal, and whether the timeline and budget of the project was feasible.
A key tenant of Deeply Rooted is to allow community members to determine the needs of neighborhoods, and for them to be the ones to direct funding and resources. The community partners were specifically selected to review the grant applications, as they have applied for grants themselves, and have the clearest insight into what projects will have the greatest impact for each specific neighborhood and community
This was the first round of community grants from Deeply Rooted, and the grant program will continue bi-annually moving forward. A new call for submissions will open in January and available at urbanhealthlab.org. Proposed grant activities and programs must directly benefit one of four initial Deeply Rooted communities in Philadelphia: Kingsessing, Cobbs Creek, Haddington, or Mill Creek. Deeply Rooted solicited proposals in one of four areas—innovation, improvement, organizing, and entrepreneurship—related to greenspace or nature.
Deeply Rooted launched in May 2022, led by the Penn Urban Health Lab and with Penn Medicine and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s (CHOP) Healthier Together Initiative as the initial funders, and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society serving as the lead strategic greenspace implementation partner. Named Deeply Rooted to convey the depth, strength, and scope of the work, this initiative will increase greenspace through greening of over 1,000 vacant lots, planting more than 1,000 trees and building mini-parks designed by the community. In addition, Deeply Rooted will have a focus on nature-based workforce and leadership development and promotion of environmental justice initiatives.
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