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Project Petals: on green space and youth climate leaders

Words by Tess Becker

One of the most prominent landmarks in of New York City is Central Park, a well-regarded green space in the United States. The problem is, a lot of that funding is centralized and outer boroughs don’t see as much attention... like the same green ‘pop’.

This is something that Alicia White, the founder of Project Petals, wanted to change. 

Being from Queens herself, she witnessed a lot of the underfunding of green spaces in her community firsthand. In 2015, Alicia started the organization in an area formerly known as Railroad Park.

She had no idea the project would explode as it did. 

“I got a bunch of neighbors and volunteers together to clean up this one park,” Alicia tells Smiley News. “I connected with local council people and senators in the area to try to get funding."

People started reaching out more, asking for help or even just advice on how to fix up and maintain green space in their community.

“From there, I thought, this would be a good organization to help other environmental leaders throughout New York City get the resources, tools, and education that they need to be able to have clean environments in their communities as well.”

Project Petals is made up of two primary programs. The first is the environmental green space program, where they go into underserved communities and help build green spaces.

The second is the youth builders program which highlights potential young climate leaders in the community and helps them with resources, a platform, and education so they can then share that with their community.

“We want to identify environmental leaders, so we can be able to give them the physical tools they need, like shovels, soil seeds, to be able to bring their idea of these environmental spaces into reality," says Alicia.

“In the future, they'll be the people who are the stewards of our planet."

As Project Petals started expanding, communities started using it for different needs. Like one community may be addressing food scarcity, while another is focusing on clean spaces for kids to play. They’ve even been focusing on providing solar power to nearly every green space, and through that, they have things like community movie nights.  

And eventually, Alicia started having urban planners come out to speak with the kids to help educate them on everything that’s behind building and maintaining a community.

“The first meeting started with like about 10 or 15 young people,” Alicia says. “And now when we have these programs, it's 100 young people. So it's pretty cool.

"We've had students that have actually gone to college and gotten into college because of our mentorship program, majoring in urban planning and architecture and engineering as well.”

Project Petals has 15 green spaces that they help resource and maintain in New York City. Through the pandemic, they reached over 10,000 people, in whatever form that came. They’ve also started considering expanding outside of New York with calls for Florida, Georgia, Connecticut, and others. 

“If we all start within our own communities to try to improve the environment around us, then we can all make a ripple effect and some type of impact,” Alicia says.

This article aligns with the UN SDG Life on Land and Climate Action.

This article aligns with the following UN SDGs