Volunteer participates in a planting event. © Simon Williams/TNC

Stories in Delaware

Melisa Soysal: AmeriCorps Public Ally

Melisa is helping us “green” vacant lots in the City of Wilmington.

In recent years, The Nature Conservancy has expanded its conservation efforts to have a greater impact in cities and urban areas as more people around the US, and world, call these densely populated areas home. Wilmington is one of 21 US cities in The Nature Conservancy’s North American Cities Network, which applies a collective emphasis on advancing nature’s role in providing clean water, vibrant communities, resilient coasts and conservation leaders in urban areas.

Working in cities provides a unique opportunity to strengthen the relationship between historically-neglected lands, waters and air that make up urban natural infrastructure and the people, particularly poor and vulnerable communities, with whom they are most closely connected.By protecting and enhancing these natural resources, we will support community resilience, human health and well-being, habitat connectivity, and economic growth. Maria Dziembowska, Director of Urban Conservation for the Delaware Chapter, heads up urban conservation projects in Wilmington.

This brings us to Melisa Soysal, the chapter’s newest AmeriCorps Public Ally, who joins us as the Urban Conservation Coordinator under Maria’s direction. Melisa’s education, internship and work experiences, along with her passion for people, animals, and the outdoors make her an excellent addition to Delaware’s team. Most of Melisa’s time over the coming year will be focused on the greening of vacant lots in the City of Wilmington. Converting vacant properties into green spaces has been shown in other cities to reduce crime and improve the mental and physical health of nearby residents.

Delaware's Americorps Public Ally Melisa Soysal is helping us “green” vacant lots in the City of Wilmington.
Melissa Soysal Delaware's AmeriCorps Public Ally Melissa Soysal is supporting our urban conservation efforts in Wilmington. © Courtesy Melissa Soysal

Melisa graduated from the University of Delaware in December 2016, with a degree in Sociology and an Emergency Environmental Management concentration. She also has minors in Women’s Studies and Environmental Humanities. While in school, Melisa interned with the South Wilmington Planning Network where she helped with a community garden, studied the impacts of sea level rise, and researched related mitigation and adaption techniques for cities. She also researched brownfield revitalization and worked closely with community members to conduct surveys and educate the public about various environmental impacts in their neighborhood.

After graduation, Melisa worked with the Delaware Nature Society as a teacher/naturalist at Ashland Nature Center, Cooch Dayett Mills, and Coverdale Farm. Additionally, Melisa worked part-time for Wilmington City Council Member At-Large Rysheema Dixon. This impressive list of past experiences working in both urban and natural settings made Melisa an ideal candidate for our expanding urban conservation program.

In the months ahead, Melisa will work with staff from the City of Wilmington, the Delaware Center for Horticulture, and the newly establish Wilmington Neighborhood Conservancy Land Bank (WNCLB) as three lots in west center city are selected for “cleaning and greening”. Selecting which lots to clean and green requires consideration of soil pollution, assessing current site conditions, and seeking community input on long-term uses which may require additional future upgrades for the lots. Melisa will be organizing meetings at community centers and with civic associations so the neighborhood’s residents can help guide the process.

“I’m looking forward to bridging my interests, past experiences and education to help improve local neighborhoods,” says Melisa. “We hope to demonstrate that greening even a few abandoned lots can improve the lives of the people in the community in numerous ways. I see it as a win-win-win for the residents, the city, and for nature.”

When she’s not busy working, Melisa enjoys photography, hiking and spending time with her dog, Alvin.