Nurturing the Seed that the Young Urban Forest Leaders Program Planted

Willow couldn’t have predicted the impact that participating in the Young Urban Forest Leaders (YUFL) program would have on her life. Driven by her desire to learn more about the urban forest, she found herself developing skills through the program and emerged as a leader in her community. Now, she reflects on her experience and the opportunities ahead.


Willow Cabral has always loved connecting with the natural environment. Having grown up on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, a place known for its breathtaking scenery, it was second nature to immerse herself in the natural world. But, when she moved to Toronto for university, she was unsure how she could connect to the natural environment in her new setting. That is, until she learned about the YUFL program. Captivated by the concept of an urban forest, she applied for and was accepted into the program in 2019.
Willow describes her time as a Young Urban Forest Leader as an absolute joy! Over the course of the program, she learned about the urban forest and the power that everyone has to shape where they live. She strengthened her leadership and critical thinking skills through opportunities to plan and lead public events with her YUFL teammates. She also fostered new, life-long friendships with fellow program participants. When asked, this was the best part of the experience!
Upon completing the program, and equipped with new skills and a burning passion to get involved, Willow set her sights on improving the canopy in her community. Working closely with the Annex Residents’ Association (ARA), she wrote a successful project proposal grant, developed promotional material, assisted in designing a canvassing plan and organized tree plantings that united her neighbours under a common cause. This involvement with the ARA proved to be a rewarding experience as she played a pivotal role in creating change in her community.
Participating in the YUFL program also provided her with a deeper awareness of her career path. As an aspiring urban planner, she notes that one of the greatest challenges planners face today is how to make cities more sustainable and support urban green space in light of climate change and growing development. After gaining unparalleled insight on the urban forest through the program, she’s determined to complete a double specialization in Urban Studies and Human Geography, with a minor in Environmental Geography, at the University of Toronto. Furthering her community involvement, Willow was elected as the Sustainability Deputy on the University College Literary and Athletic Society in 2020 and is Co-President of the Urban Studies Student Union for the 2020/2021 year. She hopes to bring a critical and strategic lens to sustainable urban design through her studies and professional career.
Reflecting on her experience, she said that:
“The YUFL program enriched my mind and my life. [It gave] me the confidence and drive needed to pursue studies in sustainable urban design…With so many opportunities having come out of my experience in the YUFL program, I can’t wait to see what the future holds!”
Thankful for the opportunity, she encourages anyone who is looking for a rewarding experience to participate, as well. If she could give any advice to her younger self, it would have been to look for opportunities even sooner and to keep an open mind because you never know what’s out there until you try! 

Interested in becoming a Young Urban Forest Leader? We are accepting applications for the 2021 program! Learn more.


Lam Tran is the Education Coordinator at LEAF.


This blog is part of a series intended to highlight YUFL alumni. The blogs were written by Lam Tran based on responses collected in 2020 and revised in 2021 with the purpose of sharing YUFL alumni experiences, as participants of the program and their journeys after graduating from it. Read other blogs on the Young Urban Forest Leaders program here.


The Young Urban Forest Leaders Program is funded in part by a City of Toronto Community Planting & Stewardship Grant and the Canadian Tree Fund.