Andy Lipkis is a practical visionary who has dedicated his life to healing the environment while improving the lives of individuals and communities as well as the ecosystem. He founded TreePeople in Los Angeles in 1973 at age 18 and continues to serve as its Founder. Andy has spearheaded an approach of building collaborations amongst infrastructure agencies and communities to employing trees, forest-inspired technologies and people power to make cities sustainable and resilient while mitigating floods, drought, pollution, extreme heat, and climate change. This approach is being demonstrated in L.A. as a model for cities everywhere.
Andy believes in Los Angeles' power to influence due to its global impact of its media, trend and style setting and the the remarkable and historic ethnic diversity of the city's communities. "As we change it here, we change it everywhere."
Andy's vision for a more sustainable world is inspired by the miracles of nature and the people he meets and works with every day. He is also an avid admirer of the lives, legacy and work of Buckminster Fuller, Paul Hawken, Jeanine Benyus, Jared Diamond, George Orwell, Chauncey Gardner, and Luther Burbank.
When he is not busy traveling the globe speaking, or working here in LA, Andy loves to cook and dig in his garden. He says, "I love growing what I eat and going to as many farmers' markets as I can. It is one of my favorite ways to connect to the earth and community.”
Cindy is a lifelong Angeleno raised in the Northeast San Fernando Valley. She began volunteering with local community organizations at the age of 12.
Her love for the environment began with her family. Cindy’s mother was raised in a remote, mountainous region of Veracruz, Mexico and her father in the dry border state of Chihuahua.
Her parents ignited a passion for the environment in Cindy at an early age when they pointed out environmental injustices in their neighborhood. As a family, they participated in tree plantings and, blessed them with visits to state and national parks and encouraged the kids to pursue careers in social justice.
At the age of 25, Cindy was elected as the youngest mayor and councilmember of her hometown of San Fernando. At 28 years old, she made history by becoming the youngest woman elected to the California State Legislature, where she became a champion for the environment, sustainable urban planning and social justice.
Cindy then moved on to serve as Assistant General Manager at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, where she was a core part of the team transitioning the nation's largest publicly-owned utility to cleaner energy and a more sustainable local water supply.
Cindy is currently a Board Member for the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and a Legislator In-Residence at the USC Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics.
Some of Cindy’s favorite things to do are to hike our local mountains, explore California and give back to Los Angeles. She is inspired by the magic of California's ancient 2,000-year-old giant sequoia trees, the delectable taste of the fruit from her mother's trees and the ability to live and work inside oak woodlands within a major metropolis.
Daniel Berger was born and raised in New York City, where he developed an intimate connection with the urban heat island effect. An appreciation for the cooling impact of green spaces soon followed. His first foray into environmental work came with the River Project, near the mouth of the mighty Hudson, conducting research into the health of the surrounding estuary and witnessing firsthand the resilience of natural systems to human impacts.
After earning a B.A. in Political Science from Vassar College, Daniel went on to hold a range of positions with the American Civil Liberties Union in both New York and California over the course of a decade, and ultimately directed the organization's operations across a seven-county region of New York’s Hudson Valley.
Daniel joined TreePeople in 2015 as Senior Manager of Policy, spearheading innovative, integrated solutions to the water management challenges confronting the Los Angeles region. In 2017, he became TreePeople’s Director of Community Greening, overseeing the organization’s programs and projects related to planning and implementation of green infrastructure Best Management Practices, including retrofits on public right of way, residential and commercial parcels, and publicly owned properties, such as parking lots and parks.
Daniel takes inspiration from Theodore Roosevelt’s words included in a 1907 Arbor Day letter to the country’s school children: “A people without children would face a hopeless future; a country without trees is almost as helpless.”
Courtney Gross, Director of Major Gifts
Courtney Gross is the Director of Major Gifts at TreePeople. She has over 12 years of experience working with individuals to create, strengthen and steward strong relationships with philanthropic donors. With a robust philanthropic background, Courtney is adept at soliciting and closing major gifts, implementing successful donor-centric events and high touch meetings, and working with and managing teams.
Before joining TreePeople, Courtney worked at Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), working with major gift donors in the Los Angeles area, as well as managing the Los Angeles Leadership Council. She worked at the California Community Foundation before that in the Donor Relations Department.
Courtney holds a Bachelor of Science in French Literature from Georgetown University. As a Los Angeles native, her connection with TreePeople extends back to her days at elementary school.
Edith de Guzman, Director of Research
Edith de Guzman was born in Milan, Italy to Israeli-Eastern European parents and moved to LA when she was nine. After earning a B.A. in History/Art History from UCLA, Edith discovered a passion for the nonprofit sector, which led her here, and later, a Master's degree in Urban Planning from UCLA. Here, Edith manages research into best practices for the sustainable transformation of the Greater Los Angeles Area and develops and maintains strategic partnerships with policymakers, agencies and community partners around integrated ecosystem management.
She believes that in today's paradoxical era of being globally connected yet largely alienated from our local environment, fostering a sense of place and stewardship of our local and global resources is the best way to ensure a sustainable future.
Edith's favorite nature quote comes from Senegalese poet, Baba Dioum, "In the end, we conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught."
Jim Hardie, Director of Park Operations
A volunteer since 1986 and a Board Member from 1995 to 2016, Jim Hardie joined us full time as Director of Park Operations in 2007. Jim grew up on a 45-acre farm in beautiful New Jersey. He considers being there his best education, but he pursued his higher education as a Drama major at Northwestern University.
Jim is committed to our mission because he believes humans have gotten way off-track, seduced by mindless consumption and so creating a world terribly out-of-balance. He believes that we need to do better right now and that we are helping with that, as best we can. Jim's favorite nature book is Helen and Scott Nearing's "Living the Good Life," published in the early 1950s, which he says is the best book ever written! A more recent environmental book recommendation from Jim is Bill McKibben's Eaarth. He says, "Read it now, today, this minute!"
Though partial to Coldwater Canyon Park, Jim also loves being in the Redwoods up north; he finds them magical, mystical, beautiful and grounding, all at the same time.
Chris Imhoff, Director of Program Development
Chris Imhoff grew up in a family that enjoyed camping and hiking in the outdoors and always cared about the environment. This love continued when she realized in college her dream was to provide environmental education to children and found her way here.
As a college intern in the early 1980s, she led school groups on Eco-tours around our park and worked as a summer camp counselor. It was from there that she proposed to Andy Lipkis a restructuring of the education program to engage thousands of students across the city to join in the Million Tree goal prior to the 1984 Olympics. Since then, our organization and its mission have been a part of her heart!
Chris' favorite tree is the Coast Live Oak, which she says are "majestic, native beauties." When not here, Chris finds bliss traveling and exploring new countries with her family.
Brian Rekart, Director of Forestry
Brian Rekart was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri. Growing up he spent most his free time in the woods, hiking, camping, floating, trail riding, and any other activity that would keep him outdoors.
He attended Colorado State University earning a BS in Forest Biology. After working for a commercial tree company in Northern California, he moved to Los Angeles in 2008 and started working for TreePeople. Brian spent the next five years working in the Mountain Forestry Department where he helped create our native plant and tree propagation work used for TreePeople’s Mountain Restoration Program. Brian also spent three of those years planting in the Angeles National Forest, following the Station Fire in 2009.
In 2013, Brian needed to return home to St. Louis Missouri. While there, he worked for the city of St. Louis managing the tree work in Forest Park, one of the largest city parks in the nation. He continued to educate himself, acquiring his ISA Municipal Specialist Certification as well as the ISA Tree Risk Assessment Qualification (TRAQ).
August 2016: it was the perfect opportunity for Brian to return home to TreePeople. He is more than excited to be back with us-- what he considers his “second family.”
Ariel Lew Ai Le Whitson, Director of Education and Community
Ariel Lew Ai Le Whitson focuses on organizational strategy and leads TreePeople’s environmental education and community organizing departments. She has extensive experience in managing programmatic and legislative initiatives, fundraising, and marketing campaigns. Ariel previously worked on the statewide California Environmental Literacy Initiative at the nonprofit organization Ten Strands. She led the advocacy team at Ten Strands, and within two years managed successful campaigns that resulted in $4,000,000 in state funding for environmental literacy and the passage of CA State Senate Bill 720, a bill that integrated environmental literacy into education code. Ariel’s true passion is working on systems-level change that empowers youth to advocate for themselves and their communities. She also serves on the Board of Literacy for Environmental Justice.
TreePeople Staff - Senior Managers
Michelle Bagnato, Senior Manager of Sustainable Schoolyards
Michelle Bagnato grew up in beautiful Santa Cruz, CA with the mountains as her playground and the ocean as her refuge. While in college in San Diego, a class studying the environment from the perspective of enjoying it made Michelle realize that taking care of the earth was what she was called to do.
Michelle was introduced to TreePeople through her son's school, and became involved and started volunteering. She soon found a new career with TreePeople, after twenty years in advertising and film.
Michelle believes that everyone has the right to fresh air, clean water and a place to run and play. She also believes that the more we are connected to nature, the more we are connected to each other. Her heroes are the parents in South LA who struggle daily to put food on the table but still take the time to plant trees for their community.
Yujuan Chen, Senior Manager of Urban Forestry Policy
Yujuan Chen is originally from Bozhou, China and has a longstanding interest in urban forestry. Prior to joining TreePeople, Yujuan held a range of positions with the Urban Forest Ecosystems Lab at Virginia Tech, the Urban and Peri-urban Forestry Program at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations in Rome, Italy, and the Community Forestry Program at New Jersey State Forestry Services. She holds a B.S. degree in Horticulture from Beijing Forestry University, an M.S. degree in Urban Forestry from the Chinese Academy of Forestry, and a Ph.D. in Urban Forestry from Virginia Tech.
Yujuan has unique international development and collaboration experience through working with international organizations, governmental agencies, universities and research institutes, NGOs, and communities. She believes cities are the solution for global problems and she is excited to work with Angelenos at both policy and community levels towards a green, healthy, and sustainable future.
Yujuan is passionate about nature, people, and adventures. Her favorite tree is the Ginkgo and she loves their unique fan-shaped leaves and gorgeous fall color.
Rosa Donis, Senior Manager of On-Site Educational Tours
Born in Mexico and raised in East LA, Rosa Donis has been with TreePeople for twenty one years. She manages TreePeople's Eco-tours program and works toward planting the seed of "love of nature" in children's hearts every day.
Rosa wears many hats at TreePeople from managing all of our on-site tours like the monthly moonlight hikes, family tours, drought solutions tours, dogie hikes and Eco-birthday parties to spreading our message and mission through outreach, workshops, and conferences. Rosa has also embraced community organizing and helped transform our Citizen Forester en espanol program by becoming a resource for Spanish speaking people who want to plant trees in their schools, neighborhoods and parks.
Having spent most of her adult life at TreePeople, the trails at Coldwater Canyon Park never ceases to amaze her and is still her favorite park in Los Angeles and just when she thinks that she knows the park from top to bottom, she'll find a new space, tree, or plant that just makes her fall in love all over again..