Friends of Trees has an amazing volunteer base. Like, really incredible. We’re joined by thousands of individuals at our planting and tree care events every year (5,000+ this season, but who’s counting?), who give us their time, energy and smiles.
And at every event, rain or shine, are the familiar faces of our Crew Leaders, our trained planting leaders who teach groups of strangers how to properly plant all kinds of plant stock (bare root, balled and burlap, containerized, live stake), keep the planting mood light and fun even when it’s raining sideways, take on the less glamorous tasks like sweeping, picking up burlap, cleaning shovels, marking planting and plenty more. Woo!
Our Crew Leaders are some of the most dedicated tree champions we know. Here is a quick photo rundown of Crew Leaders at typical winter planting events (sweeping, directing traffic and taking a break after the end of a long planting day!):
Knowing all of this, we spoke to Alex, Kellyn, Liz, Emily, and Wayne, five of our newest and most dedicated Crew Leaders about their rookie season with Friends of Trees. Read about why they took the plunge and trained to be Crew Leader and why they keep coming back.
What inspired you to join Friends of Trees as a Crew Leader this year?
Kellyn (Green Space Crew Leader): I was always under the impression that Friends of Trees was specific to street trees in Portland, and while greening our streets is a very worthy cause, it’s not my passion. Natural areas and restoration work is more my jam, and when Anil at CWS told me about the Green Space program, I was excited. I knew there were other non profits that did native plantings, but word of mouth from multiple people on how much fun plantings were and how fantastic in general FOT is ultimately won me over.
Alex (Green Space & Neighborhood Trees Crew Leader): Needed outlet for my “get-outside-and-do-some-good” impulses now that my kids are older and no longer involved in scouting.
Emily (Neighborhood Trees Crew Leader): I started with Friends of Trees as a Tree Team Ambassador – which is an extremely fun role and was perfect for me because I had just moved to Portland and I met a ton of people. At one of the outreach events, Jenny (Volunteer & Outreach Manager) told me about what FOT does in the winter and the coveted Crew Leader positions – and the rest is history!
Liz (Neighborhood Trees Crew Leader): I was initially going to be a Neighborhood Coordinator, but Crew Leading was a better fit. Since I moved from Arizona, I was so impressed with all the trees!
What is your favorite part of leading volunteers at plantings? Do you have a stand out experience of the season?
Kellyn: I love getting the kiddos excited for a day in the mud. Whenever there’s a child that doesn’t seem to want to be there, I make it a special point to make sure they have fun. Seeing people smile and helping to keep that general warm and fuzzy feeling that we’re all out there for a good cause just renews my spirit.
Wayne (Green Space & Neighborhood Trees Crew Leader): My favorite part of leading is watching young people learn how to handle a shovel and the look on their faces when we have successfully planted their first tree.
Alex: Watching people let loose and play in the dirt. Neighborhood planting in Vancouver with a crew of recent West African immigrants was lots of fun.
Liz: The fact that everybody hung in and kept good humor during a planting in Woodstock in December that was pouring rain the whole time! Everyone was saying that they’d never been at a planting with that much rain. But we had a very nice crew of volunteers, a couple homeowners getting trees, a driver who didn’t mind the mud, and no one batted an eye. (Editor’s note: The planting referenced here was one of the rainiest events FOT staff can remember of the last 8 years! )
Emily: My favorite part is just being goofy and fun with the volunteers, while still teaching them all the tree knowledge. I figure, they are coming out early on a rainy Saturday to do this, so it should be as awesome as possible.
Any words of wisdom or advice for someone considering training in this role?
Kellyn: Sometimes it was hard to get out of bed early on a Saturday, the week’s exhaustion a bit overwhelming, but I never, ever regretted leading a crew after the event and was always so happy I made the effort.
Alex: If you’re driving, bring your own favorite implements of destruction, such as a mattock/pick. Ibuprofen is your friend. Find a hot tub. Get up early and eat a good breakfast.
Wayne: Learn how to be very patient with everyone in your group and remember that they are volunteering their time as well.
Liz: Identifying people’s inclination toward tasks and giving them positions makes the event run more smoothly.
What is something you got out of Crew Leading that you didn’t expect? (Other than an overabundance of KIND bars!)
Kellyn: Connection with others. I have come to know a few crew leaders and volunteers well and really enjoy working with them, and it makes the days so enjoyable. Huge kudos to [my co-Crew Leader], Stanley, for stepping up as a crew leader during a Gift Planting when I lost my emotions after a particularly sad story. What a supportive group of people. It was such a team building day. Also, lots of experience planting bare roots- which I really appreciate!
Wayne: Being both an assistant crew leader and crew leader gave me the chance to meet others with similar interests to help enhance the planet. You are all such kind and caring people!
Emily: When I first signed up and also started getting a taste for Portland winter, I was thinking, I’m going to do like 3 of these a season to fill my quota. And then I did one and was obsessed and kept doing more and more. You suddenly realize there’s nothing you’d rather be doing on a rainy Saturday morning. So that was surprising to me. I’m also gaining skills that have translated into my work life, so it’s a very worthwhile volunteer experience and resume-booster.
Liz: I think by discovering FOT, it has helped me feel very quickly attached to Portland, and comfortable: learn neighborhoods more, meet Portland people and feel much more a part of Portland.
Three cheers for these incredible Crew Leaders and all the many faces that make our planting programs successful year in and year out!
Randi Orth is the Volunteer & Outreach Specialist at Friends of Trees