Environmental Poverty is a Real Problem: Here’s an Organization Trying to Change it

The health of our environment and the welfare of our people are inextricably linked—something that we’re becoming increasingly aware of through events like Earth Day. Environmental justice is key to providing underinvested communities with access to clean air, clean water, and open, natural spaces. A lack of funding and income, particularly in communities of color, has a direct impact on the livable environment.

“Disparities in exposure to environmental toxins and pollution are more frequently the subject of the natural sciences, but their deep relationship with socioeconomic factors demands greater attention from social scientists. Indeed, a deep body of scientific research shows a strong and persistent relationship between socioeconomic status and exposure to environmental hazards.… Environmental health reflects and reinforces economic and racial inequality.”—The Brookings Institute, Earth Day: it is about equity as well as the environment.

As we celebrate Earth Day, we’d like to highlight an organization doing great work.

The Greening of Detroit

For more than 30 years, a Black-led nonprofit organization called The Greening of Detroit has been restoring the city’s majestic canopy. It’s not just trees that the team has focused on—even though they’ve planted more than 140,000 of them. The organization also helps with building green infrastructure, providing green spaces, and improving the natural environment throughout the city. A team of 16 employees and more than 3,000 volunteers plant and maintain healthy and natural outdoor spaces that benefit everyone.

The organization is also a vital resource for job training and youth education. The Greening of Detroit employs approximately 200 high school students each summer and trains more than 700 adults each year in tree care, landscape services, and stormwater management.

The pandemic forced the organization to make some abrupt changes—as volunteer numbers dropped off, supporting the team of permanent employees became even more critical. The organization still had thousands of trees to plant and had to incur extra expenses without its dedicated volunteers.

The Greening of Detroit received its first PPP loan from CRF in May 2020 after experiencing a backlog of applications at their own bank. Then, when second-round PPP funding became available, we were able to help the organization get a second draw PPP loan to continue providing its services to the community.

Today, the organization is building back—continuing to provide its full range of services and inspiring measurable social and economic impact through both direct action and supportive services in the community.

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