Pennsylvania Legacies #148: Walking the Walk

It’s one thing for an environmental organization to tout its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. It’s another to live out that commitment at the level of programming and daily activities. On this episode: how Philadelphia’s Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership is innovating upon its mission to protect the watershed and better serve all its residents.

Doryan de Angel, TTF Community Watershed Leader

The Tookany/Tacony-Frankford watershed is a cross-section of Greater Philadelphia. Encompassing a wide swath of suburban Montgomery County as well as neighborhoods within the City proper, it’s home to a diverse population of residents who are increasingly engaged in conservation and outdoor recreation activities organized by the Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership (TTF).

“Our biggest mission is to connect our communities within our watershed to their green spaces — and specifically to their creek, to their water, to their river — and the best way to do that is working together with the community that lives in it,” said Doryan de Angel, TTF’s Community Watershed Leader.

“To have an inclusive, welcoming space, you need to know who you’re including.”

Susan Sunhee Volz, TTF Community Organizer

It takes a lot of work to effectively engage such a wide range of people. De Angel noticed the need for resources in languages other than English years ago when she was working with TTF as a volunteer. Now, they have bilingual bird guides and distribute their newsletter and fliers in English and Spanish.

“It is important to be able to have staff or volunteers that are bilingual, that are able to communicate… If I was to call someone and I’m interacting with someone who also speaks my language, that encourages a feeling of inclusion, a very inviting feeling, and it also helps foster future engagement,” said de Angel.

During the past year, these outreach efforts have only increased. While 2020 was the year many groups just began to seriously reckon with questions of diversity, equity, and inclusion in their work, TTF was already working on DEI goals. When COVID hit, the pivot to digital interactions and communications was a chance for them to try out some new ideas.

TTF has created a number of resources, like this bird guide, in both English and Spanish.

“We couldn’t do programs in person but we still wanted to engage with the community and encourage them to walk outside and explore the park and the creek,” said de Angel. “We developed [the] Bring Us Along/Traenos Contigo virtual tour series that’s both in English and Spanish… If you can’t visit the park, or you don’t feel comfortable visiting the park, you can still feel like you’re interacting with the space.

For groups and organizations looking to increase their DEI efforts, she says, the place to start is by getting to know the community.

“To have an inclusive, welcoming space, you need to know who you’re including,” said de Angel.

After that, outreach is key, according to Community Organizer Susan Sunhee Volz. “We really do go canvass and walk down the street and knock doors near the park. It really is [about] talking to people.”

Volz suggests that something as simple as offering someone a map during an event can make a big difference in taking the first step towards making more community connections.

Learn more about Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership and their work in Diversity and Inclusion at the links below.