The Student Becomes the Teacher
By Jenny Bedell-Stiles
Last Saturday marked the final day of another Friends of Trees record-breaking planting season—and what a season it was! Just over 5,200 street and yard trees were planted in the Neighborhood Trees program and 37,300 native trees and shrubs planted through the Green Space Initiative. That’s an increase of 12.5% and 35.7%, respectively, over last year’s totals!
These achievements were only made possible by the outpouring of support from volunteers. At the heart of this operation were our dedicated group of nearly 400 trained crew leaders. Crew leaders are FOT’s “boots on the ground,” training planting day volunteers how to plant, why we do it, and how to have fun while they’re at it.
We asked five dedicated new crew leaders to answer a few quick questions. Check out their funny, sincere and downright instructive answers below.
1) What prompted you to get involved with Friends of Trees as a crew leader?
I became a crew leader in an odd way, actually. I went to Crew Leader Training thinking it was just for City of Tualatin and ended up meeting some of the coolest and nicest people in my life right now, which is everyone at FOT. I signed up for as many plantings as I could at the end of the day and then even more once I got home, because I’m new to the area and I knew it was going to be a great way to meet people. I met my best friend out here through FOT! -Ryan Steiger (RS)
I have enjoyed leading volunteers during restoration projects in the past and was drawn to the Green Space Initiative because of the opportunity it offers to get outside and see an area I might not visit otherwise. I like the idea of wildlife and people both having habitat available to them in urban spaces and saw crew leading as a way to get involved. –Cristina Watson (CW)
It began one day last fall when someone rang our bell and asked us if we were interested in having a tree or trees planted on our property by Friends of Trees. We had been in Portland only a little over a year then, having moved across the country from rural upstate New York. We missed the trees on our 40 acres, so the answer wasn’t just yes, it was “Hell, yes!”… As it turned out, FOT had a crew leader training session coming up, so not only could I plant more trees, I could help others enjoy it as much as I did—and wear a cool vest while doing it. What could be better? –Jeff Kisseloff (JK)
2) What is your favorite part of leading volunteers to plant trees?
I have a few favorite things about crew leading. One being how I get to interact with all kinds of different people, and two being that I get so many positive remarks and thank yous for making people so happy, all because I’m wearing a colored vest that associates me with a great cause. (RS)
The potluck afterwards! Just kidding—sounds cliché, but watching people who live in the same neighborhood (and sometimes on the same street!) meet each other for the first time is amazing. Spending four hours beautifying your neighborhood together can be an incredible bonding experience, especially on some of the more weather-challenged days, and listening to people share their lives with each other and make plans for after you’re done … that’s not something that can be offered from most volunteer opportunities! –Carley Cummings (CC)
I like to see how volunteers of different ages, interests and experiences are drawn to certain activities or tasks. Some love to dig, others plant, others flag the new plantings with ribbons. Once people know generally what to do, they sort of naturally fall into place and work as a team. I love helping facilitate that process and seeing each person participating in their own way. (CW)
3) Did anything unexpected surprise you this season?
One Saturday, about half my crew was an extended family from Syria, which was really great since I used to live in the Middle East and I got to practice my Arabic with them and reminisce about the culture. –Keegan Heron (KH)
I had a father/daughter team that I particularly enjoyed on one of my crews, and when we went to their house to plant their trees they (a bit sheepishly) asked me if I wanted to come in their backyard to see their chicken coop. It was one of the cutest things ever. Oh, and it really never rains on planting day—at least most of the time! (CC)
Over the last few months, I’ve worked with a surgeon (who could knot twine better than anyone I’ve ever seen); a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, a professional songwriter, a novelist, a state senator, and even a fellow who wore a kilt. (JK)
4) What advice do you have for others thinking about becoming a crew leader?
My advice is simple … DO IT!! … It has become something I look forward to during the week! (RS)
Do it! Make sure you give everyone ample opportunities to participate in the planting process, and that everyone is happy with the work being done. Have fun. And get done early so you can partake in the AMAZING smorgasbord of awesomeness put on afterward. (KH)
DO IT! It can be a little scary at first (how will I ever remember all of this?) but the crew leaders that you’re paired with are awesome, and you learn so much about yourself and other people. And try, if you can, to walk most of your planting route with your crew—my favorite day was when our entire crew (besides the truck driver, of course) walked the 3/4 of a mile to our neighborhood together and then walked between all the houses and back—we were like old friends by noon and nothing about a day like that can feel like work! (CC)
Attend both NT and GSI plantings first to see which program speaks to you more. I like both but was more drawn to the native plant restoration of the GSI. A practical matter—get some waterproof shoes and glove liners! And once you start as an ACL [assistant crew leader], try to observe as many current crew leaders as you can to see the different styles of teaching and help develop your own approach to crew leading. (CW)
Not everyone will be interested in working hard. Figure out a way to engage those who are less eager than others. Along with the shovels and rakes, humor is a great tool to have on the job. (JK)
5) Anything else you’d like to add?
Out of all the volunteer work I’ve done throughout the years, FOT is definitely the most organized. They all do a great job of keeping in contact with you, getting back to you on questions you have, and making sure people always have a great time when planting trees. (RS)
I like planting fruit trees, so that I can go back in a couple years and sample all the fruits of my labor. (KH)
When I was a mere whip of a youth, we planted two maples in front of our house. They were so small that I used to amuse myself by jumping over them. Two years ago after my father died, I went back to our old home. Those two trees that I used to hurdle are now taller than the house and they provide shade for an entire block. In twenty years (provided I still have a memory), I’ll be able to go around Portland and point to some of the trees that I helped plant, trees that I hope will then be providing shade, color and fresh air to entire blocks of this city. How cool will that be? Even cooler than the orange vest. (JK)
These are just a fraction of the overwhelmingly positive stories, thoughts, memories and random musings we get when we ask our crew leaders about their volunteer experience. If you would like to become a crew leader yourself, please email or call (503-467-2528), and I’ll be in touch with you late summer with more details about attending a November Crew Leader Training. We look forward to welcoming you to the “Tree Team!”
– Bedell-Stiles is the Volunteer & Outreach Specialist with Friends of Trees.