Bertina Whytehead was introduced to the Philadelphia Orchard Project (POP) in 2013 through her work with the Junior League of Philadelphia. Now, she’s President-elect of POP! Aside from holding various leadership positions in the League, she has also volunteered with Girls Inc. of Philadelphia and Southeastern New Jersey. We asked Bertina how important Junior League membership and leadership training has been to her.

The Philadelphia Orchard Project sounds like a great League project. How did it come about?

Founded in 2007 by economic development pioneer Paul Glover, POP is part of a growing movement across the world to develop more sustainable, equitable and ethical local food systems. Philadelphia is one of the centers of this work, with some 40,000 vacant lots and the highest poverty rate among big cities in America. As the cost of energy, food and healthcare rises, the low-wealth neighborhoods where POP plants are the most vulnerable to hunger and related health problems. Orchards and community vegetable gardens offer neighborhoods the most direct access to healthy food and build people’s capacity to feed their families and neighbors.

POP Timeline:

  • 2007: POP founded; planted 2 new community orchards
  • 2008: POP hired Phil Forsyth as part time Orchard Director; planted 7 new community orchards
  • 2009: POP planted 5 new community orchards; organized first seasonal harvest festival
  • 2010: POP received 501 c3 status; planted 4 new community orchards
  • 2011: POP planted 7 new community orchards; organized first city wide Philadelphia Orchard Day
  • 2012: POP promoted Phil Forsyth to Executive Director; planted 4 new community orchards
  • 2013: POP planted 5 new community orchards; organized first annual plant sale & tree giveaway
  • 2014: POP hired Program Director Robyn Mello; planted 3 new community orchards; piloted POPharvest gleaning program
  • 2015: POP hired Development Associate Tanya Grinblat, planted 3 new community orchards

What is it like, as a League member, to also take on a leadership role at POP? How does that play off your League training?

I find having a leadership position outside of the League allows me to practice the skills obtained as an Active. The information learned through leadership training on the local, area and ODI has enhanced my skills as a POP board member and President-Elect, has allowed me to help upgrade the programs to a new level. The Junior League developed my leadership skills
and provided me with confidence in boarding my experience in the nonprofit world.

What drew you to The League in the first place? And what have you gotten from it?

I have always served my community and enjoyed volunteering to make a change in society. I became interested in The Junior League through my sister who joined the Miami League in 1998. Going to her League community projects and watching her serve in many leadership positions inspired me to join the Philadelphia League in 2003. Since joining the League, I have made lifelong friends, gained leadership skills, learned how the nonprofit world works on different levels in the community and how you can use the skills and knowledge you have obtained from The Junior League in your career, and community organizations.