Launched in 2008, the Junior League of Philadelphia‘s (JLP) Project GREEN: Using Nature to Nurture was focused on the intersection of children’s health and wellness and the natural environment. Project GREEN was created with three projects in mind: Campus Community Gardens, the Green Volunteer Corps, and the Riverbend Environmental Science Partners Educating Children Together (RESPECT) Nature Club.

How the initiative has evolved in recent years says a lot about JLP’s commitment to its green initiative – and its willingness to change course to avoid roadblocks.

The Campus Community Gardens project was designed to address the lack of green space in Philadelphia, particularly in and around schools, by building urban gardens at schools and teaching children about urban agriculture. A public school in North Philadelphia was chosen but the ground planned for the garden was tested and found to be unsuitable, because of contamination, for gardening. JLP’s team countered with an offer to create raised gardens but the school district wouldn’t agree.

End of project? No. JLP did an urban gardening mural inside the school and then found a new community partner, In the Garden with Tree House Books, an afterschool program for local kids, and built fresh vegetable gardens there. Urban gardening and healthy nutrition programs soon followed.

Another project that arose from the Campus Community Gardens program was HIP (Healthy Imaginative Playful) Kids, a partnership with Smith Memorial Playground & Playhouse, a free kid’s playground within Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park. The primary focus of JLP’s program is to encourage outdoor play and exercise in Philadelphia’s youth and to promote a connection with nature, creativity, and imagination. JLP planted a wildflower garden, built a living willow structure, and works with Smith year-round on special programs to involve whole families, including a back to school event with a healthy snacks component, a family fitness/nutrition event, and exercise/craft event.

The Green Volunteer Corps was designed to provide JLP Provisionals to work in Fairmount Park to keep it clean, beautify one of its meadows, recruit volunteers from the local community and schools and conduct environmental workshops. After a slow start, the program was consolidated into done in a day projects (DIAD) because there just wasn’t enough to do as a stand-alone initiative. Now there are two scheduled DIADs focused on maintaining the park’s historic mansions and replacing invasive plants with new plantings, as well as three days a year when Fairmount Park personnel can call on JLP members to work on the park’s other volunteer projects.

In the third aspect of Project GREEN, JLP successfully collaborated with Riverbend Environmental Education Center and the Norristown school district in suburban Philadelphia to create a supplemental science curriculum for elementary schools within the district. The RESPECT program serves 400 children, and also involves evening presentations with parents in attendance along with the kids.

Finally, over the last 12 months, JLP is moving towards a larger “umbrella” focus of healthy living that will involve handing off Project GREEN initiatives to existing community partners and developing a new focus area (past themes have included literacy and women on welfare).