Urban Paradise Guild founder Sam Van Leer – #YouWowMe 4

“I have no personal life Liam.  I have a full-blown obsession with UPG.”  And that accurately describes Sam Van Leer’s passion and complete dedication to the environmental non-profit, Urban Paradise Guild (UPG), he founded nearly five years ago.

Three years ago I volunteered to photograph one of UPG’s service projects at Vizcaya and was immediately impressed by Sam’s contagious zeal for his work.  Sam’s excitement helps him inspire close to 1,000 volunteers annually to contribute thousands of hours of volunteer work on UPG’s dozens of environmental projects throughout Miami-Dade county.

Sam is the 4th in my #YouWowMe series – portraits of truly inspirational people.

So, what exactly does UPG do?  To answer that, Sam poses a question: “What kind of world do you want to live in?”  He continues, “We want to live in Urban Paradise.”

And that is exactly what UPG attempts to create through daily volunteer opportunities at 6 UPG locations.  And UPG has completed dozens of projects around the county, including:  having planted over 7,000 mangroves and more than 5,000 native trees and shrubs at Oleta River State Park (and remember that this is just one of UPG’s Locations! ). Now they are creating 2 UPG Garden Centers on 6 acres to provide 500 low-income families each with their own raised-bed organic vegetable garden.

But to truly appreciate Sam’s inspiration, you should understand that he gave up his career and used his personal savings to start UPG and has yet to draw any salary for 5 years.  Ask yourself,  “Would you do that?”

How can you help?  

Get involved!  Check out their calendar to volunteer here.

And donate here.

Watch and listen to Sam explain the mission of UPG and why he does this:



In the photo at the top is 12-year old UPG volunteer Eli Jean who is showing us just a small sample of the fruits & vegetables grown in their garden.  To fully appreciate how much work went into creating it, this is what the vacant lot looked like before UPG’s efforts:


Follow all the #YouWowMe people here: FacebookInstagramPinterestTwitterYouTube — Google+ — Flickr — LinkedIn

Do you know a truly inspirational person?  Who lives in Southern Florida, Maine, NH, Boston, San Francisco or New York (places I try to visit regularly)?

Please ask them to contact me at 305-333-6388 or EMAIL ME their contact information.

Maybe they’ll be the next #YouWowMe.

Are you familiar with Sam and UPG? Please describe your experience:

⬇If Sam inspires you, please SHARE with your friends ⬇


One Response

  1. Beth Geduld March 12, 2014