Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Keystone 10 Million Trees Partnership Presents Mira Lloyd Dock Diversity Awards To Marlisa Yoder-Bontrager Of Lancaster, And Twin Sisters Keisha & Tarsha Scovens Of Lancaster & Philadelphia; Forestry Assn. Honors Nancy Baker

On February 5, the
Keystone 10 Million Trees Partnership awarded its 2023 Mira Lloyd Dock Partnership Diversity Awards to Marlisa Yoder-Bontrager of Lancaster, and twin sisters Keisha and Tarsha Scovens of Lancaster and Philadelphia respectively. 

The winners were recognized for their conservation and Environmental Justice work in under-represented communities.

The Partnership also recognized Nancy Baker as the winner of the Pennsylvania Forestry Association 2023 Mira Lloyd Dock Outstanding Woman Conservation Award. 

Baker is a private forest landowner in Bradford County and serves on the PFA board of directors.  [More to be announced from PFA.]   Read more here.

Marlisa Yoder-Bontrager has lived in her Lancaster City neighborhood for three decades and has been a staunch advocate for trees. 

She organized numerous tree plantings and supported neighborhood improvement initiatives to ease the environmental burdens disproportionately felt in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods and communities of color.

A ten-dollar tent and sense of adventure led twins Keisha and Tarsha Scovens to camp their way across the country. 

They returned to the East Coast after a year and created Let’s Go Outdoors (LGO) to increase family engagement through learning about the environment, conservation, and outdoor recreation for diverse youth and adults in Lancaster and Philadelphia.

“The criteria for the Mira Lloyd Dock Award recognizes work in Environmental Justice communities,” Partnership manager Joe Hallinan said. “Marlisa, and Keisha and Tarsha are so deserving of these honors because they demonstrate initiative, compassion, and commitment to clean water and welfare of people in their communities.” The partnership is coordinated by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF).

Marlisa Yoder-Bontrager

Marlisa Yoder-Bontrager’s father was a teacher with a master’s degree in biology, so plants were a part of her life growing up in Florida.

“The tree part came more into focus with living in an urban setting and realizing the extent to which trees can cool and really change the feel of a neighborhood which is largely brick, concrete and macadam,” Yoder-Bontrager said. “Along the way I was reading about the studies that show trees can also reduce crime, improve emotional and mental health of residents.”

In her Southeast Lancaster neighborhood, Yoder-Bontrager believed that reforesting a seven-acre floodplain would be more cost effective for property owners and healthier for everyone there. 

After she found that the land was divided into three separate parcels, her persistence paid off in two large tree plantings coordinated and managed by the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.

She is a member of the East Chestnut Mennonite Church and worked to remove invasive plants from church property and replace them with native plant species, while engaging and educating over 20 volunteers.

She was further inspired by trees in a faraway part of the world. She and husband Daryl lived in a small community in Bolivia for four years under the Mennonite Central Committee, a relief and development organization of the church. 

“Bolivia is very cold sometimes and there are stretches of very hot weather,” she said. “There, as well as here where there are trees, you see people clustering under them. So, trees are really good protectors of human health and wellbeing.”

Yoder-Bontrager attended Eastern Mennonite University and is a visiting nurse. She was a founding member of Chestnut Housing, a small non-profit in Lancaster dedicated to acquiring and maintaining affordable, stable homes for people who are moving out of homelessness.

She also chairs the church’s Creation Care group which she helped form in 2007. The group helped organize learning and hands-on projects like better insulation in the church building, river cleanups,  and encouraging earth-friendly practices of all sizes.

Seeing beyond city landscapes

Tarsha Scovens & Keisha Scovens

Let’s Go Outdoors founder and president Tarsha Scovens said, “In Philadelphia or Lancaster, we are at environmental centers, county parks or other locations where people feel like they are far removed from their city environment but actually aren’t. We are still in the city and able to give people the ability to see beyond the city landscape. They are seeing natural habitat and ecosystems that they are not thinking about.”

LGO diversifies the outdoors message by reaching under-represented communities through urban outdoor activities, outreach, and watershed education.

Keisha Scovens is the director of Community Outreach for LGO in Lancaster. She also serves as executive director of the nonprofit, Let’s Go 1-2-3, providing services in both Lancaster and Philadelphia. 

The sisters completed Pennsylvania Master Naturalist training in 2014-2015.

Let’s Go 1-2-3 offers free programming to remove financial, material, equipment fees and any barriers preventing people from participating in outdoor experiences. 

They provide indoor lessons and outdoor activities, a trip and excursion and then challenge participants to take a “next step” which includes giving back through improving the outdoors.

“In Lancaster, our Let’s Go 1-2-3 work has centered around our middle school and the city of Lancaster in general,” Keisha said. “Our work has focused on our watershed, specifically our tributaries to the Chesapeake Bay which are the Conestoga River, leading to the Susquehanna and then to the Bay. Activities are focused on helping students understand their watershed and for city residents to understand their outdoor environments that are nearby to their homes.”

The sisters are from Connecticut, and in 1996 decided to spend a year together after four years apart at college. 

They saw an AmeriCorps poster with President Bill Clinton, signed up and were accepted in Utah. They went west with little money or experience, a ten-dollar tent, and inspiration to help others.

“I heard other people say that they camped across the country, so I thought we could do it too,” Tarsha said. “It was an adventure to connect with other individuals, to see the country, and we were going to make a difference.”

After a year of service at Dixie College, in St. George, Utah, the sisters returned to the East Coast with a better tent and an appreciation for the benefits of being outdoors.

Let’s Go Outdoors Is Born

Keisha was working in Lancaster at Wickersham Elementary School when the principal asked about a program to bring students and parents together to increase not only learning, but also provide a new kind of enrichment. 

Let’s Go Outdoors was born.

Tarsha has been on faculty at Montgomery County Community College in the Liberal Arts Division for eight years. 

When funding for the Lancaster enrichment program didn’t happen, an award of $15,000 from the Women for Social Innovation a year later allowed the sisters to move LGO forward in Philadelphia in 2012. 

Within two years, a subcontract with The Philadelphia Water Department started the sisters’ watershed education to School District of Philadelphia students.

In 2017, they received a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to provide environmental education to students in Lancaster, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh to connect them with their watersheds. 

The sisters were looking for ways to expand the LGO vision and opportunities for middle and high school students.

Tarsha has a master’s degree in Professional Communication from La Salle University and a bachelor’s in Liberal Studies from Virginia Wesleyan College. 

Keisha has a master’s degree in Speech and Language Pathology from Gallaudet University and a bachelor’s from Loyola University in Maryland (was Loyola College).

“We came into this as outdoor enthusiasts, wanting to see more people of color wanting to participate in outdoor activities, while learning about their environments,” Tarsha said. “I really appreciate when people say, ‘I never thought about it this way or saw this’ in the guise of someone looking at beauty of our natural environment, even in the city.”

With their Mira Lloyd Dock Awards, winners receive trees and supplies to support their Environmental Justice efforts.

Mira Lloyd Dock

Mira Lloyd Dock is recognized as the first Pennsylvania woman to lead the way in forest conservation. She was an advocate for Penn’s Woods and in 1901 was appointed to the State Forest Reservation Commission by Pennsylvania Governor William Stone.

CBF launched the Keystone 10 Million Trees Partnership in 2018 with a goal of planting 10 million trees for Pennsylvania to help meet the state’s Clean Water Blueprint. 

In October of 2022, the Partnership celebrated midpoint success by planting its 5-millionth tree.

Visit the Keystone 10 Million Trees Partnership to learn how you can help clean water grow on trees.

How Clean Is Your Stream?

The draft 2024 report has an interactive report viewer that allows you to zoom in to your own address to see if the streams near you are impaired and why.

Click Here to check out your streamsClick Here for a tutorial on using the viewer.

Related Articles - Watersheds:

-- Keystone 10 Million Trees Partnership Presents Mira Lloyd Dock Diversity Awards To Marlisa Yoder-Bontrager Of Lancaster, And Twin Sisters Keisha & Tarsha Scovens Off Lancaster & Philadelphia; Forestry Assn. Honors Nancy Baker  [PaEN] 

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[Posted: February 6, 2024]  PA Environment Digest

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