Partnering with Community Benefit Organizations to plant trees + grow community

“CBO partnerships are especially important for an environmental organization like Friends of Trees because they help us effectively reach low income communities and communities of color, communities that are impacted first and the most by climate change.” -Surabhi Mahajan, Friends of Trees’ Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Specialist

Trees + community is so much more than volunteers planting trees together. True community means that a diverse population has access to all of the benefits of trees, especially historically underserved communities of color. And in order to reach diverse communities we need a diverse range of partnerships.

Friends of Trees is fortunate to enjoy some amazing partnerships, and some particularly amazing partnerships are with Community Benefit Organizations (CBOs). CBOs are community-based nonprofit organizations, are often culturally specific, and provide some sort of community benefit. An example in Portland is Verde, which among other services provides workforce training for the Latinx community.

Friends of Trees’ CBO partners include Verde, Wisdom of the EldersBlack Parent Initiative, the Blueprint Foundation, APANO, and POIC. Most of these organizations are partners in our Urban Forestry Training Program*, which helps connect adults to jobs in the Urban Forestry field (learn more about this program here). Beyond this joint endeavor our CBO partnerships take a few forms:

Verde and Wisdom of the Elders each support our tree planting work through planting event preparation, participation, and follow-up, including post-planting tree care. Verde also provides some contractor services at our Portland office on NE MLK Jr. Blvd (get to know more about Wisdom in the next story).

Black Parent Initiative is a community-based organization that serves Black families or families with Black children through home care visits, economic job opportunities, and other services. The FOT-BPI partnership supports connecting Black families in Portland to nature and to tree planting events, as well as connecting to job training programs in the urban forestry and restoration sector.

The Grounding Waters program of the Blueprint Foundation exposes Black urban youth to careers in environmental science, and paid workforce training with Friends of Trees is part of the program. Grounding Water youth train and participate in planting events as Crew Leaders; Grounding Waters youth will also train and participate as Summer Inspectors, checking on the health of trees planted through our Neighborhood Trees Program, which will provide additional learning opportunities. * Note: The Blueprint Foundation is not a current partner in the Urban Forestry Training program, but is considering the program.

Our partnership with the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO) focuses on the Jade Greening Projectwhich is working to increase the canopy of East Portland’s Jade District. Friends of Trees’ involvement includes tree-planting events and targeted community outreach toward getting more trees planted and volunteers engaged. A new feature of this partnership includes our first intern from APANO, whose focus has been supporting planting events through securing food donations from diverse neighborhood businesses and joining the planting teams.

Our partnership with Rosemary Anderson High School’s Portland Opportunity Industrialization Center (POIC) involves hands-on job training and leadership skill-building with high school students. Each season 10-14 POIC students train to be Crew Leaders and they participate in planning and leading Friends of Trees planting events; the students receive stipends as part of this program. Read more about this partnership in our December 2016 edition of Treemail.

Our CBO partnerships provide countless benefits, to both Friends of Trees and to our community. When youth are able to experience leadership positions, and when diverse communities have access to training that leads to internships and jobs with green organizations, preconceived barriers about green jobs and environmental engagement start to break down. Further, the youth interns can serve as role models for other youth volunteers, particularly for young people of color who can be inspired when someone who looks like them has a leadership role.

These partnerships also have an environmental justice aspect. Many of our partners and interns serve or live in under-canopied areas that experience greater impacts from climate change, such as heat islands. Involvement with community tree planting provides a way for participants to address some environmental inequities firsthand.

Equitable partnerships represent a core value of Friends of Trees and are critical to true community building, and we strive toward fostering this type of partnership in the work we do. We are thankful to the support of the City of Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services and East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District for support that helps make these partnerships possible.

Pictured above: Urban Forestry Training Program participants from project partners POIC, APANO, Wisdom of the Elders, Verde, the Black Parent Initiative, and the Pathways to Farming program.

This story is from the January 2020 edition of our e-news, Treemail; check out other issues of Treemail here.

Get to know our partner: Chemawa Indian School

Friends of Trees has been partnering with Chemawa Indian School in Salem for more than five years. Our partnership includes training Chemawa students as Crew Leaders for our planting events in Salem and engaging hundreds of Chemawa students at tree planting and tree care events, including activities at the Chemawa Indian School campus.

This partnership has been driven by dedicated teachers and staff at Chemawa who are passionate about creating opportunities for the students to participate in their community through improving the environment while building their leadership skills.

Chemawa teacher Paula Stuart explains why the partnership is so valuable to Chemawa, Friends of Trees’ offer to donate trees on Chemawa’s campus has increased awareness of the importance of environmental stewardship. Students who might not have otherwise noticed have joined in, sometimes merely tempted by donuts and hot chocolate, then catching the joy of working outside in teams of happy diggers.”

Paula continues, “Science teachers at the school have offered credit for participation and I am ever so happy that this active engagement has influenced several students’ interest in pursuing environmental careers.”

Finish reading here, where you will find the entire November edition of Treemail, our monthly e-news. Want to catch up on past issues of Treemail? They’re here!

Growing the next Tree Team generation

Friends of Trees and partners are providing job training and leadership skill-building opportunities for youth

Nature deficit disorder is real. It is unhealthy for young people and it is unhealthy for our community and the planet. Educating youth about nature through learning about and planting trees improves the personal health of the students and is creating the next generation of environmental stewards. Top this off with partnerships that include job-training and leadership skill-building and we’re making great strides in growing the next Tree Team generation.
Friends of Trees’ educational programming actively and meaningfully connects youth of all ages with nature while providing hands-on experiences with environmental work. Every year we engage more than 2,500 young people, from elementary school through high school.
Much of our work with youth involves project-based environmental education with at-risk high school students, providing minority, low-income and other under-served young people with hands on job-training and leadership skill-building activities. Students serve in leadership roles through planning, participating in, and leading planting and tree care events with community members throughout the Portland Metro and Salem Metro regions.
“The program creates a sense of belonging to something larger than themselves,” says Leigh Rappaport, Program Manager with project partner Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center. “The students feel that they’re doing something important by helping volunteers learn how to plant trees–and they’re also learning a lot about trees.”
Partners in this work include:
  • POIC/Rosemary Anderson High School: At-risk youth participate in a POIC job training program through training and serving as Crew Leaders (a key Friends of Trees volunteer role) and helping to plan and implement tree planting events throughout the season.
  • Cascade Education Corps: Washington County high school students in CEC train as Crew Leaders, and are also trained to work with elementary and middle school students. The older students work with the younger ones on planting teams, serving as their Crew Leaders for tree planting and tree care events.
  • Chemawa Indian School: Students undergo Crew Leader training and serve as Crew Leaders at Salem-area tree-planting events. The students train and lead community volunteers, as well as their fellow Chemawa students (read more about this partnership below).

What’s particularly encouraging about this program is the overwhelming interest from the students. Friends of Trees Deputy Director Whitney Dorer shares, “Young people really want this, there is a growing, huge demand. For instance, this year 45 students applied for the 15 available POIC spots.” Whitney concludes, “Our vision is to be able to make this available for all young people who are interested, so we are especially grateful to the variety of funders and partners who are investing in today’s youth.”

Pictured above: POIC Program Manager Leigh Rappaport (center) with POIC student Crew Leaders.

Trees & Health Symposium in Gresham on Nov 13

Volunteers at a Friends of Trees planting in Gresham's Nadaka Park
Volunteers at a Friends of Trees planting in Gresham’s Nadaka Park

We all know that trees provide benefits to people and the communities they live in.

But do you know how to care for trees to help them thrive, and how you can add to Gresham’s tree canopy at home or in your neighborhood?

The Gresham Trees and Health Symposium will feature a mix of speakers, film, discussion, tree care booths, light refreshments, and a summary of the City’s Green Gresham, Healthy Gresham tree project in Rockwood.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019
6:00 – 8:00 PM, Rockwood Boys & Girls Club

More information and registration information is here, thank you to our co-hosts Multnomah County and City of Gresham!

A word from our volunteers

Volunteers talk, we listen.

As we prepare for our 31st season of planting trees + growing community we’re taking time to reflect on the feedback of the folks who make this all possible: our incredible and unparalleled volunteers.

We know there’s a lot to love about volunteering with Friends of Trees, and we also know we’re not perfect. To find out what works and what doesn’t, last season we surveyed more than 500 volunteers after events; here’s a sampling of what we learned and how we’re incorporating the feedback to make our programs stronger.

Would you recommend volunteering with Friends of Trees? Yes, absolutely!

96% of survey respondents would recommend volunteering with Friends of Trees.

“It was nice to do something for the community with good people.”

We also learned that the majority of volunteers came out because they wanted to do something good.

More good news:

The average “grade” for the Friends of Trees volunteer experience was a B+ (89); more volunteers than not felt more connected to their community after volunteering; and the vast majority learned something new about trees or the environment and felt prepared for their volunteer experience.

“Really nice people. I have volunteered 7 or 8 times and loved every time.”

“Those running the program were great, the people I met were great. This was a good feeling, getting out and helping like-minded individuals accomplish something for the greater good. Thanks for that!”

“Planting a tree in my yard with my neighbors was a great experience and memory that I will cherish.”

“It is wonderful to see so much community spirit. I loved seeing the bicycle delivery team!”

Folks had questions or need more information about:

What to expect at a Friends of Trees volunteer event.

“Even a rainy day failed to dampen my enthusiasm.”

We get it, not everyone loves to be outside early on a Saturday morning in the cold rain planting trees in the mud. Of course, it’s not always like that, but tree planting season is October – April because cool, wet conditions are best for the trees, giving the young trees we’re planting the absolute best chance of survival.

We plant trees. Lots of trees. Thousands of trees. And we do this in all weather – warm and sunny, cold and rainy. It gets muddy. It’s physical. This is how we make a difference – and, together, we make a big one: 50,000+ trees and native shrubs planted every a year, with more than 800,000 trees and shrubs planted since 1989.

Cold rain not for you? No problem, there are other ways you can help make a difference, through helping secure food for events, making phone calls, driving a truck … learn more about other volunteer roles here.

We learned that not everyone loves a bucket brigade. We do our best to let folks know what they’re in for, be it a tree planting event or a tree care event, and we’ll do more to let folks know the difference between volunteering for a tree planting event and a tree care event—because, yes, we want the trees we plant to survive and thrive so we do tree care, too!

The use of pronouns during introductions.

Friends of Trees will always strive to be a welcoming and safe place for everyone, regardless of age, ability, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, political views,  economic status or anything else that makes you special. Without our volunteers, we are nothing. But together we do amazing things.

There were quite a few comments about our use of pronouns during introductions (for example, “My name is Jenny, I use she/her pronouns.” Or, he/him, they/them, etc.). Most were very positive but some people didn’t understand why we do this.

We understand that getting used to anything new can cause some people to feel a little uncomfortable or can simply just generate questions; we believe it’s well worth it so that others feel seen and welcome.

This response sums it up perfectly:

“As a trans person I really appreciated the affirmation of gender pronouns! It was much nicer that everyone shared at the start than having to correct people later :)”

As a community driven organization Friends of Trees fosters an atmosphere of inclusion and support. We continually work to improve and enhance these efforts and we are so grateful that our community of volunteers supports this:

“I will cherish the fact that in a group of volunteers ranging in age from 10- 65, people were using their pronouns as they introduce themselves. I think it was a learning experience for everyone.”

“I appreciate that you’re trying to reach out for a more diverse population of volunteers.”

“Everyone was so welcoming and kind.”

“There didn’t seem to be enough trees for our group.” “There were so many trees to plant!”

At most of our 100+ events we get the ratio of volunteers:trees planted right.  We also acknowledge there is a fine line between too many volunteers and not enough volunteers, and walking this line is both an art and a science.

We assess the planting location, the number of trees to be planted, types and sizes of trees and shrubs, the size of the planting site, how many volunteers attended last year … all of this factors into how many volunteers are ideal for each location and we create a goal for each event. Sometimes more folks show up than registered; other times, people don’t show up. We’re humans, this happens. We do our best to account for this and create the best volunteer experience possible.

We sincerely value the time and effort of our volunteers and regularly work on how best to ensure each event has the ideal number of volunteers to trees. Last season we began asking all volunteers, not just groups, to pre-register for events and that’s made a big difference. And guess what? Registration for the 2019-2020 Friends of Trees season is now open! Check out our event calendar and registration information and join us for another season of planting trees + growing community.

We’ll leave you with one final quote:

“These times in our world are troubled and the news is often grim; each time I volunteer for a Friends of Trees planting I receive a huge dose of hopefulness. The sheer numbers of volunteers with all their varying stories coming together to volunteer when it is cold, wet, muddy is a great dose of joy. Plus, I have been to places previously unknown to me. Abundant riches are added to my life each time.”