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YP Spotlights of the Month

April: Sustainability

We honored ABNY YP’s making NYC a more sustainable city.
Congratulations to our April Spotlights of the Month, Alex Zablocki and Sarah Charlop Powers!

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Alex Zablocki

Executive Director, Jamaica Bay-Rockaway Parks Conservancy
How did you get to where you are today?

Throughout my career in public service, I’ve been fortunate enough to work for great leaders and within teams of people guided by doing good. I would not be in the leadership position I am in today at the Jamaica Bay-Rockaway Parks Conservancy without others willing to let me take risks and support me every step of the way, through success and failure.

What are you most proud of?

Everyday I have the opportunity to improve parts of our city that do not often receive a lot of attention or public investment. Throughout my career, I am most proud of being able to advocate for underserved communities and seeing positive change come from this advocacy.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to work in your field?

Simply put: If you believe in something and are passionate about it, and willing to work hard, you can accomplish anything you put your mind to. This is especially true for anyone who is looking to work in the nonprofit field, or in park management and environmental stewardship. Networking helps as well, so connect with me or others in this field, and start there.

When did you realize you are a New Yorker?

I was born and raised in New York City, so this city is in my blood. But that moment when I realized what is so special about New York City and its people was just after September 11, 2001. Seeing my neighbors and our entire city come together to support each other and the victims of our country’s worst terrorist attack – and being a part of that – showed me how great a people we are. This is what being a New Yorker is all about: we are tough when we have to be, always compassionate, have each other’s backs, and remain resilient.

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Sarah Charlop Powers

Executive Director, Natural Areas Conservancy
How did you get to where you are today?

When I was a kid, my mom used to load our car full of neighborhood kids and drive from our neighborhood in the South Bronx to the NY Botanical Garden because our neighborhood was nearly devoid of trees. My parents were tenant organizers, and taught us that it was not enough to have a safe place to live. People, especially children, also need to have access to nature – to be able to play, explore, and experience the freedom and wonder of time spent outside. I spent my 20s living and working in the Hudson Valley. It was a very formative period that laid the foundation for both my work in natural areas management and in building and sustaining programs. In hindsight, returning to New York City felt inevitable. At this stage in my career, I’m energized by the idea of ensuring that urban nature provides refuge and recreation for city dwellers, and I am deeply motivated by the opporunity to work to make our planet more resilient to climate change.

What are you most proud of?

I’m proud to have co-founded the Natural Areas Conservancy in 2012. I took a professional risk when I left a full-time job to develop the business plan for this organization. There was no guarantee that we could establish and fund a public-private partnership to champion NYC’s 20,000 acres of forests and wetlands. It was the right idea at the right time. Over the past seven years, we’ve grown from a start-up to a mature organization. Two achievements that exemplify the NAC’s work are the development of a 25-year framework for NYC’s forests (with NYC Parks), that serves as a roadmap to expand public access, improve forest health and address climate change. I’m also really proud of our work with young people. We’ve trained more than 100 high school and CUNY students, and helped many of them launch careers in urban conservation.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to work in your field?

One thing that I wish someone had told me earlier in my career is that you don’t have to be a scientist or an avid outdoors person to be an environmentalist. At a public meeting I once saw a sign that said, “We live here. We’re experts too.” In New York City there are incredible organizations working on a range of environmental issues. I would encourage people to get involved in work that you find personally motivating, even if it means starting as a volunteer.

When did you realize you are a New Yorker?

I’ve known all my life! I was born and raised in the Bronx, attended public school K-12, and my wife and I are currently raising our son in Brooklyn.

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