About A Girl: Jessica Franzini is the program directorof the Urban AirshedReforestations Program, where she plantstrees in one of the mostdangerous cities in the nation. On her time offyou can find herworking on cars,hugging strangers, or curledup with her cat Charlie akaChar-Char-Binks.
Introduce yourself. Hi! My name is Jessica Franzini and I live in Philadelphia, PA.
What do you do for a living? I plant trees in Camden, NJ. I am the program director of the Urban Airshed Reforestation Program, a community-based initiative to improve environment and quality of life in the city of Camden.
What’s a typical event like? Camden tree plantings are like block parties with a purpose! Imagine an inner city block full of volunteers from all over the region that are digging holes, planting trees and laying mulch.
So, why trees? As my lovely boss, Lisa Simms, always says, “Planting a tree is making an investment in the future of our cities. Trees reduce air pollution, lower energy costs, and improve the overall quality of life for our communities.”
How do you choose where to plant? We look at what’s above, below and around each planting location. This includes utility wires, underground gas, water and sewer lines, proximity to existing trees, soil conditions and access to sunlight. Our goal is to plant the right tree in the right place, so it will thrive well for decades to come.
Tell us about your school experience. I graduated with a Bachelor’s in Environmental Studies from the Richard Stockton College of NJ, with a concentration in Sustainability and Environmental Policy. I was involved with Student Action Volunteers for the Environment (S.A.V.E.) and AmeriCorps Water Watch, both of which helped me develop as an environmentalist and a leader. All of my experiences taught me so much about working with others, finding the best in myself and helping those in need. I knew I wanted to work for a non-profit!
Describe your work in one word. Meaningful Where did your interest in trees come from? My childhood! I grew up with four acres of woods behind my house. Needless to say, I spent my summers playing in trees, climbing on trees, making forts in trees, and being an awesome tree-loving kid.
What are your five favorite trees?
2. Cherry blossoms
3. Eastern redbuds
5. My favorite tree in Camden is the ‘Winter King’ hawthorn—white flowers in the spring, beautiful red berries in the fall and winter, and thorns to keep troublemakers away!
Any tree jokes? I wooden know. Leaf me alone.
What do you do on your free time? My favorite past time is working on old cars with my dad, which I’ve been doing since I was 17. I recently bought a ’74 VW Beetle that needs some fixin’. In addition, I love drawing, painting, writing, and trying all things artistic! And animals. Oh how I love animals.
Do you have any pets? About a year ago, I rescued an adorable little kitten from Broadway Street in Camden. He had a broken leg and was stumbling to cross a busy road! After a few weeks in a cast, he was as good as new, and he’s been my little man ever since. I call him Charlie, aka Char-Char-Binks, aka Charmander— the best cat in the world!
What is a Friday night out with you like? During the planting season you can find me at home in a Snuggie, cuddling with my cat! Otherwise, I’m normally out dancing, wearing face paint, smiling, putting my arms around strangers, and generally wreaking havoc on the town!
Do you have any embarrassing work stories? Oh yes! The first that comes to mind is the frantic, silly, unprepared acceptance speech I delivered after receiving a “Woman of Purpose” award from the lovely Mayor Dana Redd in Camden. Note to self: never leave anything to chance!
Aside from trees, what are some other ways to help the environment? Recycle, plant a garden, grow vegetables with your neighbors, buy local food, switch to CFL bulbs, install a rain barrel, use low-flow shower heads, drive a hybrid car, educate yourself, vote with the environment in mind—the possibilities are endless!
How could a reader volunteer? To volunteer with us in NJ, simply visit our website, click on the volunteer tab, and sign up for one of our events. To find exciting volunteer opportunities in your area, visit volunteer centers in your county or search online. If you’re a student, you can get involved with a club on campus that interests you and organize community service projects together. Volunteering is a blast, and it helps you decide what you want to do more of in life. What’s your life motto? Be happy. That’s all I ever wish for.