February 20, 2024 |Tony Richardson and Isabelle Lyon

Urban Conservation and Community Fellowship Program

Cities across the United States are experiencing rapid growth and urban sprawl to accommodate the estimated 83% of Americans who live in urban areas. Unfortunately, low-income urban communities are often left behind as cities plan for infrastructure updates, greenspace preservation and effective water management.

Low-income urban neighborhoods also struggle with challenges such as blighted properties, lack of properly maintained waterways, fewer resources to improve environmental conditions and more. Research has shown that parks in these areas are smaller in size and 4-5 times more crowded than parks serving white and high-income households. These factors, combined with decades of racial injustice, have resulted in a lack of green and open spaces in these communities.

For historically underserved communities to thrive, these layered problems must all be addressed. Community-based groups trying to tackle these issues, especially in underserved neighborhoods, frequently face challenges with management capacity, financial and technical resources and limited staff. These limitations can inhibit their ability to implement effective community-driven solutions.

Photo by Val Keefer.

In collaboration with our network of community-based partners, the Fund is committed to creating and using urban greenspaces to shape more equitable neighborhoods and help mitigate adverse effects of climate change, pollution and neglect that occur in historically disinvested pockets of urban communities. Our Parks with Purpose programworks shoulder to shoulder with community leaders and residents to improve greenspace assets such as parks, greenways and urban gardens, while simultaneously strengthening the capacity of community organizations and empowering residents by building greener foundations.

Throughout our work, we endeavor to strengthen the capacity of community organizations and engage residents in shaping their neighborhoods. We’re excited to announce a new initiative that will do just that – our newly launched Urban Conservation and Community (UCC) Fellowship program. The program aims to support leadership development for a new generation of diverse urban conservation professionals focused on community-based action while increasing the capacity, impact, and effectiveness of community-based organizations working to make their neighborhoods safer, greener, and more equitable.

Photo by Jordana Rubenstein-Edberg.

In this first year of the UCC Fellowship program we plan to place four fellows into full-time professional roles within community-based organizations currently partnered with TCF through our Parks with Purpose program in four cities: Washington, D.C.; Baltimore, Maryland; Raleigh, North Carolina; and Atlanta, Georgia. In collaboration with their host organization and TCF, each fellow will develop a 12-month work plan to advance community-driven initiatives, such as realizing park, trail or other greenspace visions and related social, economic and environmental benefits.

To ensure that our UCC fellows are prepared to support their host organizations and the communities in which they are embedded, we will provide professional development training in core curriculum areas including: Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion; Meaningful Community Engagement; Fundraising and Grant Writing; and Nonprofit Budget Management. Additionally, the fellows will connect regularly to share in each other’s learning and experience.

Photo by Robin McKinney.

Further support will come from members of the UCC Fellowship Advisory Council who are helping guide program development, candidate recruitment and professional development. We are so grateful to our Advisory Council members for providing their time, mentoring support and expertise:

  • Carolynn Brunette, co-executive director of Prince Charitable Trusts
  • Akiima Price, award-winning family and community engagement specialist
  • Ronda Lee Chapman, associate vice president of equity and belonging at The Trust for Public Land
  • Carmera Thomas-Wilhite, vice president of diversity, equity, inclusion and justice at Chesapeake Bay Foundation
  • Julie Judkins, co-founder of Just-Trails and environmental consultant
  • Amin Davis, state & local projects grant manager, NC Department of Environmental Quality Division of Water Resources and environmental nonprofit volunteer consultant

With the Advisory Council and partner organizations in place, we’re excited to open the application process to select our inaugural class of fellows. If you or someone you know is interested in finding out more, please check out the UCC Fellowship program job description and online application. We look forward to welcoming our first group of fellows in 2024 and will continue to update the progress of this program in future blog posts, so stay tuned!

Written by

Tony Richardson and Isabelle Lyon

Tony Richardson is Director of Urban Conservation Initiatives at The Conservation Fund. Through equitable park development projects and a community-centered approach, he supports residents in transforming and restoring dilapidated inner-city properties into vibrant new parks. Tony is passionate about connecting communities to nature, particularly communities that are often underrepresented in the outdoors. He lives in Washington, DC with his wife, daughter and crazy dog. As an avid cyclist, Tony enjoys exploring the expanding network of bike trails in the area, especially the Anacostia River Trail in Southeast D.C.

Isabelle Lyon is the Urban Associate and the UCC Fellowship Coordinator at The Conservation Fund. She is passionate about equitable, sustainable communities and works with the Parks with Purpose program to develop community-centered greenspaces with equitable access. She has taken on the role of the UCC Fellowship Coordinator to help foster a new generation of conservation leaders who focus on meaningful community engagement and equity. Isabelle lives in Washington, D.C. and enjoys exploring the D.C. park scene, reading and cooking.