New urban community engagement specialist helps expand conservation impact in New York, New Jersey

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Nature near Rio Ceballos, Argentina, where Lucy Crespo was born.

As far back as she can remember, Lucy Crespo hasn’t liked being indoors. Maybe it’s in her genes: she was born in Argentina, surrounded by forests and mountains, lush grass and plants, and rivers that ran by her home. The air was crisp and sweet, the water clear.

That’s all a distant memory for her now. When she was four years old, Lucy and her family left home in search of a better and more prosperous life, eventually settling thousands of miles away in Elizabeth, New Jersey.

Lucy Crespo at age five with her mother Maria and sister Denise.

"Growing up in the city was harsh, especially for an immigrant family. It was hard trying to find your place," Lucy said.

Elizabeth’s seemingly endless sprawl of concrete, lights and high-rises was a far cry from the vibrant natural beauty they’d left behind in Argentina, but Lucy’s parents were determined she and her little sister would grow up with a connection to the natural world. They began seeking out local parks and other pockets of nature within the city, and soon, annual camping trips became a family tradition, offering respite from life’s challenges and a reminder of home.

“My parents didn’t have the money to take us on fancy vacations, but instead they showed us how to appreciate nature and share it with people around us,” she said.

Years later, Lucy has a family of her own, raising her son in the city she grew to love. She’s also applied her parents’ lessons: In her new role as an urban community engagement specialist with the National Wildlife Refuge Association, Lucy works closely with us to ensure access to nature for the underserved communities and families who need it most.

Lucy Crespo.

Laying the groundwork

Lucy works with the Lenape National Wildlife Refuge Complex in Elizabeth and Yonkers, New York, as well as the surrounding metropolitan area, to expand the reach and impact of our conservation efforts. Through close collaboration with a wide variety of partners and other interested parties, she identifies and breaks down barriers between urban communities and nature and its many benefits. Her position, funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Northeast Region and the National Wildlife Refuge Association, is new to her, but Lucy’s been laying the foundation to excel at this work for many years. Prior to taking on this latest role, she worked for environmental non-profit Groundwork Elizabeth, a key player in our Elizabeth Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership. She discovered them when she was still in high school.

“I was volunteering for my school at a local event, and there I saw a Groundwork booth with a lot of plants around it. I asked if they were looking for volunteers,” she said.

The chance interaction became a decade-long career for Lucy. She developed close working relationships with Service staff and many local partners, giving her a window into the needs and concerns of historically underserved and nature-deprived communities.

Lucy Crespo and her son Enzo with Groundwork Elizabeth and Service staff at Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.
Lucy Crespo with Groundwork Hudson Valley members at Urban Fish and Wildlife Restoration Site in Yonkers

One look at her track record and it’s clear: Lucy can do it all. With Groundwork Elizabeth, she organized dozens of large events and cleanups; helped lead tree plantings and other urban habitat improvement projects; created and led educational programs and guided walks; served as director of youth initiatives, dedicated to increasing career opportunities for urban youth in the conservation field; and when needed, acted as an interpreter for Spanish speakers in the community – a skill she honed as a child interpreting for her parents.

Chelsi Burns, the Service's regional Urban Wildlife Conservation Program coordinator, shared, "We are thrilled to be working with Lucy in this position with her extensive local experiences within the Elizabeth community. We look forward to having her build upon these relationships in Yonkers as well, where her expertise will help promote community-based conservation for the health and wellness of people and wildlife.”

Staff at the Lenape National Wildlife Refuge Complex attribute much of their success in Elizabeth to passionate conservationists like Lucy.

“She’s served as an inspiration to countless Elizabeth, New Jersey, youth and Service staff and partners,” said Jared Green, Visitor Services Manager for the Complex. “We are so excited to have her as part of our team, with the amazing work on behalf of the Elizabeth and Yonkers Urban Wildlife Refuge partnerships that she has already accomplished and the new community projects she will be taking on in the future."

Whatever she pursues next, we can be sure Lucy will lead with empathy and compassion for those who have lived on the margins as she has.

“I want to be known as a young Argentinian DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] recipient who strived to improve urban forests and habitats for these cities. I want to be an example for immigrant families, showing them that we can work in conservation, that we belong in open spaces and that we belong in this country like everyone else,” she said.

With 13 active Urban Partnership cities in the Northeast Region, we hope Lucy’s position is the first of several. Read more about the partnership work happening in Elizabeth, Yonkers, and beyond in the Urban Wildlife Conservation in the Northeast Region library collection.

Story Tags

Connecting people with nature
Environmental justice
Urban refuge

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