A Cleaner, Greener East L.A is a tax exempt 501c3 public charity. Our primary focus is tree giveaways and tree plantings. In partnership with government, non-profits, local businesses, charitable private individuals and volunteers, we’ve managed to plant and giveaway over 5,000 trees! Truly amazing goals are accomplished when community members put their talents to use and work together. ACGELA aspires to be the catalyst that brings neighborhood stakeholders together who are in search of actively improving their urban environment.
Our mission is to improve the air quality, health and appearance of underserved neighborhoods by actively engaging the public through community activities that inspire stewardship, pride, and a dedication to bettering the urban environment.
ACGELA was founded in 2012 by two friends, Fabian and Mario, who were inspired to give back to the community that had helped raise them. Growing up on the border between Boyle Heights and East L.A, they recalled the uncomfortable, stinging heat of summer as they played baseball with the rest of their friends. They drew the baseball diamond with chalk on the sweltering asphalt of Princeton St. and used tennis balls instead of hardballs in order to avoid breaking neighbors’ windows. Although playing baseball in the summer with your buddies is an indescribable type of fun, trying to find refuge from the heat was almost impossible. There were many Palm trees on Princeton St. but not much else. Fabian remembered how much they all wished for a shade tree to sit under while they drank their Coca-Colas and ate Raspados. Fabian’s thought provoked the birth of ACGELA. Mario suggested they go back to their old neighborhood and simply plant some trees. Aside from giving current street baseball players a shady place to drink their Cokes, trees would improve aesthetics and help clean the air. Neither Fabian nor Mario knew much about trees let alone planting them, yet, as modestly successful businessmen, they knew a couple of things about turning ideas into reality.
Immediately, Fabian and Mario incorporated A Cleaner, Greener East L.A with the state of California. Admittedly ignorant regarding everything associated with running a nonprofit, especially as it pertained to raising funds, they began to do some research. They came across grants and private foundations that could potentially serve as streams of revenue. Unfortunately, they had no experience regarding the sophisticated politics associated with accessing these monies. They placed the complex world of grants aside and invested some of their own funds in purchasing the first set of trees. These fruit trees were planted in the homes of the elderly and infirm. The sense of gratitude born of humility between the infancy of ACGELA and the older folks receiving trees was palpable. Fabian and Mario quickly realized ACGELA wasn’t simply about trees and shade, it was also a vehicle for saying thank you to all the people that took part in raising them into adulthood. Knowing they couldn’t use their own money to fund ACGELA indefinitely, and not understanding the intricacies of grant writing, they began to recycle used cooking oil from local restaurants. Mario had read an article in a national newspaper about a ring of thieves in New Jersey who were caught stealing used cooking oil. Upon sharing the article with Fabian, they both realized there must be money in recycling used cooking oil. If folks are willing to steal used oil then it must be valuable.
Soon after, they researched the regulations, requirements and economic viability of recycling used cooking oil especially as it pertained to raising money for ACGELA. They purchased a stake bed truck, a motorized pump, six fifty-five gallon drums and obtained their license from the California Department of Food and Agriculture. They persuaded local restaurants in East L.A and Boyle Heights to donate their used cooking oil for the purpose of converting the revenue from recycling into trees for the community. Armed with their pump, truck, barrels, aprons and thick gloves extending to their elbows, Fabian and Mario extracted the used oil from mid-morning to late afternoon. Once their six barrels were full, they’d drive to Vernon to recycle the oil and wash their greasy truck. The revenue was invested back into the community.
Trees were planted for churches, schools and private residences. This cycle continued for a few months. Although the grease collection was difficult and dirty, planting trees was deeply fulfilling . Even though the two friends were very happy they’d found a consistent income, they never stopped searching for other methods to make money on behalf of the community. They composed letters, wrote emails, visited politicians hoping that someone shared their vision and was willing to lend a hand.
The Los Angeles Conservation Corps magnanimously offered to help. They recognized the efforts of ACGELA and offered a small watering and maintenance contract in East Los Angeles. Recognizing the opportunity and feeling immense gratitude, Fabian and Mario meticulously and whole-heartedly began working as subcontractors for the LACC. Watering trees was much easier than collecting grease from restaurants. The LACC even donated an old watering tank to ACGELA. Aside from watering and maintaining trees, ACGELA continued planting trees. Volunteers began to show and the workload became much easier. For the next couple of years, ACGELA planted trees at a small but steady rate. When time permitted, Fabian and Mario began to organize clean-ups at schools and parks.
In 2015, ACGELA was recognized by the County Board of Supervisors for their efforts to improve underserved communities. Although the distinction of Volunteer of the Year was awarded to Mario, he accepted on behalf of Fabian and the rest of ACGELA. The award began to open more doors and reinforced the notion that ACGELA was quickly becoming a staple for environmental justice. The Los Angeles Conservation Corps, remembering the professionalism and determination of ACGELA, once again contacted Fabian & Mario for help on a city wide project. ACGELA was contracted to organize Tree Giveaways in Los Angeles proper. Again, very humble and grateful at the opportunity, Fabian and Mario began to innovate ideas that would go on to create tremendously successful Tree Giveaways. Under the stewardship and guidance of City Plants and the Los Angeles Conservation Corps, ACGELA created partnerships with libraries, churches and schools. At these institutions, ACGELA hosted some of the most successful Tree Giveaways. Ecstatic that hundreds of trees were being adopted by residents of Boyle Heights, ACGELA continued to engage the public in unprecedented ways.
Although ACGELA was hosting the Tree Giveaways, the credit for the success of these events belongs to the soulful people of Boyle Heights who immediately recognized and embraced the importance of trees. Given their accomplishments in Boyle Heights, ACGELA began hosting Tree Giveaways in nearby communities. Libraries in South LA, El Sereno, Lincoln Heights, Echo Park and Eagle Rock also graciously allowed ACGELA to host Tree Giveaways at their respective branches. The largest Tree Giveaway hitherto was hosted at The Lincoln Heights Branch Library; over eight-hundred trees were adopted on an ironically gloomy and cloudy Saturday afternoon. Recognizing ACGELA’s ability to innovate and manage logistics gracefully, City Plants and the LACC broadened ACGELA’s scope of work to include planting trees on residential parkways. With a skeleton crew and very limited funds, ACGELA began framing the groundwork that would eventually support the planting of hundreds of trees in poorer neighborhoods. ACGELA is currently planting trees in Boyle Heights, El Sereno and South L.A and continue to host Tree Giveaways across the city.
ACGELA is currently housed in a small office on the Eastside of Los Angeles. Fabian and Mario continue to manage the organization. They are always busy discussing and debating the future of ACGELA along with the rest of the staff and the Board of Directors. Although ideas such as community gardens and recycling programs abound, the main focus of ACGELA continues to be serving minority communities. As minorities themselves both born of immigrant parents, Fabian and Mario truly, unequivocally understand the communities they are humbly serving. The small staff at ACGELA is always open to fomenting partnerships with other organizations and individuals who have a desire to improve the urban environment. ACGELA kindly extends a warm invitation to all who want to help and believe in the mission, vision and character of the organization.