How the Young Urban Forest Leaders Program Changed My Life

The Young Urban Forest Leaders (YUFL) Program provides hands-on training and mentorship for Toronto youths. As Education Coordinator at LEAF, I, Lam Tran, am in charge of running and delivering this amazing program. But, not too long ago, I was lucky enough to be a program participant myself. At the time, I was full of hope, curiosity and a bit of anxiety. Little did I know, becoming a YUFL would turn out to be a defining moment in my life. Today, I want to share my story.
Upon entering my third year in undergrad majoring in environmental studies, I had not a clue in the world what I wanted to do. What kinds of jobs were out there? Which ones would be fulfilling? Do I need more education? After feverishly trying to complete career assessments and learning about what kind of things I am from click-bait quizzes, I came across a call for applications to the LEAF YUFL Program through a university administrator. 
The opportunity to collaborate with other young people who were passionate about the environment, to gain hands-on experience and to work on a community project centred on urban forestry piqued my curiosity! I didn’t know it back then, but applying for the program was a pivotal moment in my life. Through the five-month program, I realized that I enjoyed learning about trees, teaching others what I knew and working with communities. Not only did I bond with my fellow YUFLs as we sweated buckets to mulch trees, but I had a moment of clarity in what I wanted to pursue: urban forestry. 
The YUFL program was an entry point to a realm of possibilities which a budding tree nerd like me could explore. Career-centred workshops provided me with tangible goals and the opportunity to meet professionals working in the field. I got a glimpse of what it could be like to work in various careers and it set off a lightbulb in my mind. After completing the YUFL program, my passion led me to continue learning all that I could, slipping tree facts and puns into my conversations and completing a Master’s degree in forest conservation. The YUFL program gave me friends, a passion and a career path.
Since my initial introduction to the organization, I found myself returning to LEAF as a volunteer, intern, researcher and now as a staff member. The work that the organization does resonates with my own values and I am grateful to be in a position where I can help and support others while making a difference. Four years ago, as I filled out the application for the YUFL program, I was answering questions on why I would love to participate in the program. Now, I am the one reaching out to applicants to learn more about them. Not only have I grown, but the program has as well, supporting youths (18 to 29 years old) from underrepresented groups in arboriculture and urban forestry, including (but not limited to) women, non-binary people, Indigenous peoples, newcomers, LGBTQ+ persons and visible minorities. Recognizing that others may be in a similar position as me, I am driven to empower them on their path, as LEAF did for me.
My advice for any anyone who is passionate about the environment, looking to strengthen their skills, broaden their experiences and meet amazing new people is to check out the Young Urban Forest Leaders Program. Consider applying to be part of the 2020 cohort and become the biggest tree nerd in your circle of friends!

Apply by Sunday, May 24th, 2020 at 11:59 PM.


Lam Tran is the Education Coordinator at LEAF.


The Young Urban Forest Leaders Program is supported by the City of Toronto’s Urban Forestry Grant.