For Sara Stevenson, becoming the new Executive Director of Awbury Arboretum means coming home: to Philadelphia, where she was born and raised, and back to America’s Garden Capital.
Awbury Arboretum is a natural gem in Germantown that marries urban agriculture and community engagement with historic gardens. The dedicated work of the staff and board has resulted in a thriving cultural and community center.
“We are thrilled to welcome Sara as our next leader,” said Shanna Halpern, President of the board at Awbury. “The breadth and depth of her experience in public gardens management, combined with her passion for horticulture and community engagement, is exactly what we need to take us to the next level as an arboretum and to further improve and advance our ability to provide ‘nature for all’ every day of the year!”
Stevenson earned a BA in Classics from Colorado College and an MA in Latin from the University of Washington and began her working career as a teacher. Her love of gardening soon led her to switch paths, however. After working for an organic landscaping company and as an education intern at Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania, she earned her master’s in Public Garden Management from Longwood Gardens and the University of Delaware.
She spent six years at Mt. Cuba Center in Hockessin, Delaware, a botanic garden dedicated to native plants. Her work focused on public engagement and audience development, skills that will serve her well in her new role at Awbury. She also brings unique expertise in environmental communication.
For the past three years, she was the Communications and Content Manager for the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability, a hub within the Ivy League University that brings together researchers, private partners, and donors to address the threat of climate change. In that role, she’s continued to lead public outreach skills and increase organizational development and fundraising.
Stevenson is excited to preserve and build upon Awbury’s considerable strengths, including an engaged and dedicated staff and board of directors and a beautiful nationally designated historic landscape. She’s already deeply familiar with Awbury’s mission. As a student in the Longwood Graduate Program 11 years ago, she worked with the Awbury board and staff to build community connections and develop welcome and orientation signage. Awbury has grown so much in the decade since and will now create a new interpretive masterplan and signage.
“Awbury is a special place. It truly serves the community, and there’s potential to do even more,” she said. Sara attended this year’s Harvest Fest at Awbury. She was moved by the large and diverse crowd of attendees and The Farm itself, which has completely transformed over the past decade. “The Harvest Fest was bursting with visitors from the neighborhood and beyond, as well as Awbury’s many tenants and community partners. I thought, ‘Wow, the community is dedicated to this place, and there’s a lot of joy here,'” she said. “I feel very fortunate to become a part of this community and to be invited into this new role.”
Once the private enclave of an extended Quaker family, Awbury Arboretum has been open to the public free of charge as a public park and arboretum for over 100 years. Located in a densely populated urban environment, it provides opportunities for everyone to learn and experience nature in its broadest sense, where people of all ages come to learn, grow, gather, relax, garden, contemplate, and play. Nature, history, and community intersect at Awbury, and the Awbury Arboretum Association is committed to stewarding these relationships and continuing to tell its story. Learn more at Awbury.org.