Meet Leslie Yu!

One Park One TeamBalboa Park Cultural Partnership, One Park - One Team, Park Profiles

Leslie Yu is the Community Programs Coordinator for the Friends of Balboa Park. While we have been away, Leslie has been hard at work delegating various programs and ensuring that the park is even more beautiful than we had left it.


Tell us what led you to become the Community Programs Coordinator for the Friends of Balboa Park?

My role at Friends of Balboa Park has evolved over time. First I was an intern, then an administrative assistant which grew into an events coordinator position, and now I’m the Community Programs Coordinator. It wasn’t something that I actually planned for nor anticipated, but I’m happy I stayed through it all. Each role gave me new challenges and something to grow into professionally. So I welcomed it, and I challenged it.

But before becoming an intern, I have a long list of places where I’ve worked before. I love looking back on those past experiences and seeing how they inform the work I do now. One of those being a small stint over at David’s Bridal where I picked up the proper technique for bow tying, and that has come extremely handy for my work. Especially for our National Arbor Day tree planting, as we tie bows on each tree dedication. 


For those who don’t know, can you tell us about your role?

My role, like the park, is always changing. My main responsibility is to focus on program administration. This includes facilitating field trip scholarships, Adopt-A-Plot, Bench and Tree dedications, and more. I’m also Friends’ resident photographer. 

I continue to work closely with our Communications team on marketing and communication needs, including running multiple social media platforms, creating our monthly e-blast, updating the website, and more! 

But like most non-profits, I wear a lot of hats and have had to change gears during COVID-19. Stepping up our digital presence. 


What are some current projects and events you’re excited to be involved with at Friends of Balboa Park?

I’ll just talk about the current ones I’m excited about, because I honestly love everything that we do. 

Friends of Balboa Park was awarded an Environmental Champions grant from SDG&E, and we’ll use this to help mitigate the South American Palm Weevil infestation that’s happening across Balboa Park. This might not seem like a big deal, but these weevils aren’t native to the area and are a major threat to our historical palms. I’m also excited about our up-and-coming program called Trees to Treasures. This program encourages us to repurpose felled wood from Balboa Park into other useful products beyond mulch, like arts and crafts. A portion of the proceeds from this program will be funneled into our Sandra B. Phelps Wilson Horticulture Fund, which allows us to work with the park’s Horticulturist and support Balboa Park’s maintenance. This program is still a work in progress, but we hope to share more updates soon. 


As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

There are two that I distinctly remember. The first was becoming a Mechanical Engineer. I love cars, so it’s always fun for me to head over to the Automotive Museum for all the different exhibits. My second dream job was to be a Pastry Chef. I love baking and making all sorts of treats.

But it’s funny growing up you don’t know where you’ll end up or what your passions are until you try something new. Like, I’ve always been involved with volunteering for nonprofits my whole life. My parents felt it was really important to give back to the community. Over time, I just kind of kept to nonprofits and volunteering as a hobby. So when this position popped up, it felt like a no brainer to apply. And nine years later, I’m still here and I’ve loved it. 


What do you like to do outside of work?

I’ve got about four things that I truly love doing and the first would be cooking and baking. Like I mentioned earlier, I love spending time in the kitchen. It’s one of my strongest passions, especially during COVID-19 times. The second thing that I love is gardening. This is a new hobby of mine and I’m currently working on my green thumb. Right now you might as well call it a brown thumb, not everything is dying. But it’s a work in progress nonetheless.  

My third favorite activity is being a part of Kapolioka’ehukai Outrigger Club, a local recreational sports club. Outrigger is a recreational canoe racing sport that’s very popular in Hawaii and I’m glad there is a club here in San Diego. Though we do race and it’s an amazing workout, the best part about the club is the camaraderie, learning about the Hawaiian culture and language. And the last hobby I really love to do is paddleboarding in Mission Bay. Paddleboarding has become a form of meditation for me and has helped me stay grounded during this chaotic time. 


What are you currently watching?

I’m currently watching Outlander, Food Wars, and rewatching the Harry Potter series. But I’ve also been watching a ton of Binging with Babish on Facebook and Youtube. He recreates a lot of recipes from shows and movies so that you can do it at home too. He also has a series called Basics with Babish where he helps you learn the fundamentals of cooking and I love learning more from him, he makes it seem so easy. 


What’s your favorite spot in Balboa Park?

This is always a difficult question, I have two. The first would be the Botanical Building and Lily Pond area, especially when everything is in bloom and the air is crisp. I love to walk inside the Botanical Building and take a deep breath of that clean air. Then I whip out my camera to explore all the perspectives this place has to offer. And I recently helped on a project to reintroduce Victorian Lilies to the Lily Pond and I think they’re gorgeous. 

My second favorite spot would be the Trees for Health Garden. It’s not in the main strip of Balboa Park, it’s at the intersection of Balboa Drive and Quince Street. This little garden is filled with plants that are known to serve a variety of medicinal purposes. And if you’re ever walked there on a Friday morning, Wilbur will most likely snatch you up and tell you about every plant and give you a personal tour. Nothing beats feeling like a VIP with a personal guided tour.