Urban tree-planting project headlines annual community partnership awards

Carver Tree Project earns Currents of Change Award

Jerome Legions Jr. of the Carver Area Civic Improvement League,left, and Tyrone Pitt scoop excess...
Jerome Legions Jr. of the Carver Area Civic Improvement League,left, and Tyrone Pitt scoop excess dirt during the Carver Tree Project planting Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018. (Pat Kane/University Public Affairs)

The Carver Tree Project, the pilot project of a collection of organizations working to make Richmond a healthier and more sustainable community, was honored with the Currents of Change Award on Wednesday at the Virginia Commonwealth University Council for Community Engagement’s annual ceremony recognizing outstanding community-university partnerships.

The tree-planting project was conceived after the Carver Area Civic Improvement League identified the need for more trees in the Carver neighborhood near VCU’s Monroe Park Campus. A group of community and VCU partners subsequently collaborated to assist the Carver neighborhood with achieving its goal and create a framework for neighborhood tree programs in Richmond, forming the Richmond Urban Forestry Collaborative. Urban tree cover provides a range of environmental, economic and health benefits, such as reducing urban heat effects, improving air and water quality, reducing noise pollution, increasing foot traffic to local businesses, and strengthening community cohesiveness, according to project organizers.

Wyatt Carpenter, sustainability projects and program coordinator at VCU, said the project ultimately provided myriad benefits to the Carver neighborhood and the many participants from VCU, as well as to the university itself. Jerome Legions Jr., president of the Carver Area Civic Improvement League, said the partnership proved to be an ideal collaboration.

“This has been an amazing experience for our neighborhood,” Legions said.

Community members, students, faculty and staff worked together on a variety of service, education and research projects related to the Carver Tree Project starting in 2017, including holding an urban forestry symposium with local and national experts, conducting neighborhood tree inventories, and investigating the spatial distribution of tree cover in Richmond related to socioeconomic data.

Jerome Legions Jr., president of the Carver Area Civic Improvement League, (speaking) is joined by other members of the Carver Tree Project. (Adam Caldwell/Division of Community Engagement)
Jerome Legions Jr., president of the Carver Area Civic Improvement League, (speaking) is joined by other members of the Carver Tree Project. (Adam Caldwell/Division of Community Engagement)

The work culminated in the fall of 2018 when approximately 150 community and university members planted 63 trees in Carver under the supervision and guidance of the Richmond Tree Stewards and Virginia Department of Forestry. Additional partners included Capital Trees, the VCU Office of Sustainability, the VCU Center for Environmental Studies, the VCU Rice Rivers Center and the VCU Chapter of the Society for Ecological Restoration. The collaboration has since expanded to include additional community partners and Richmond neighborhoods and has received three grants in addition to initial funding from the VCU Council for Community Engagement, part of the Division of Community Engagement.

The Carver Tree Project was one of four projects recognized at Wednesday’s ceremony by the Council for Community Engagement, which provides leadership across the university to advance and elevate university-community partnerships that address challenges and opportunities in the region. In addition to its Currents of Change Award, the Carver Tree Project also was honored for Exemplary Partnership in Research. Other winners included. 

Zack Lipsman, M.D., checks the eyesight of a young boy during a 10-day service trip to Honduras as part of the HOMBRE program.
Zack Lipsman, M.D., checks the eyesight of a young boy during a 10-day service trip to Honduras as part of the HOMBRE program.
  • Exemplary Partnership in Outreach: Humanitarian Outreach Medical Brigade Relief Effort (HOMBRE), which organizes medical service trips to underserved communities in Central and South America while enhancing the education of health professions students through engaged service-learning.
  • Exemplary Partnership in Teaching: VCU Globe Service-Learning in Mexico, a program that takes students to Mexico City and Oaxaca, where they teach English to Zapotec villagers at the request of local women working to provide no-interest microloans and training for entrepreneurs.
  • Exemplary Partnership, Student Initiated: Personalized Exploration for College Success, a program led by Honors College students that provides peer-to-peer college application mentorship for Richmond Public Schools’ high school students.


This year’s ceremony featured a rousing performance by the RVA Street Singers, a community choir of people affected by homelessness and their allies. Steve Markel, a philanthropist and businessman, served as this year’s keynote speaker. He praised the day’s award recipients and their ambitious and effective community involvement.

The RVA Street Singers, whose members comprise people affected by homelessness and their allies, performed at the event. The group was among the nominees for outstanding community-university partnerships. (Photo by Adam Caldwell/Division of Community Engagement)
The RVA Street Singers, whose members comprise people affected by homelessness and their allies, performed at the event. The group was among the nominees for outstanding community-university partnerships. (Photo by Adam Caldwell/Division of Community Engagement)

“It is exciting to see the continuing impact that VCU is having on the Richmond community,” Markel said.