Get to know our partner: Wisdom of the Elders

“Partnering with Friends of Trees has helped teach Wisdom interns management skills; we learn how to manage a business, how to engage with business people, it prepares everybody for employment.” – Alvey Seeyouma, Wisdom Workforce Development Program Coordinator and Crew Leader Supervisor 

The Wisdom of the Elders-Friends of Trees partnership began four years ago when our Neighborhood Trees Program needed some post-planting help. We had a number of street trees that didn’t get planted at a Saturday planting event and we were able to contract with Wisdom Workforce to plant those trees.

Soon after that first partnership experience, Wisdom hosted a community conversation for its partners, toward sharing information about how best to partner together in a way that is thoughtful and respectful. We participated in a Talking Circle, where there was honest communication about the native perspective on the dominant culture and environmental issues.

The partnership grew, and Wisdom’s post-planting support evolved to include mulching newly planted trees. Wisdom participants also began engaging on planting day, through training and participating as Crew Leaders, which provided opportunities for the organizations to work together more closely. We’ve now added pruning as a partnership element, providing even more hands on tree care experience.

Wisdom Workforce Program Coordinator Alvey Seeyouma participated in the Urban Forestry Training Program and, through that program, interned with Friends of Trees. Alvey says that the benefits of the partnership extend beyond Friends of Trees and Wisdom of the Elders, “Oh my gosh, I think our partnership benefits all communities. It helps the Wisdom crew leaders become more comfortable with their engagement with the community, so it benefits everyone.” He lists some more benefits of the partnership, “Wisdom interns are learning new skills through the community tree planting events. They’re learning about tree identification, planting techniques, and about community engagement through training as Crew Leaders.”

What would Alvey want folks to know about Friends of Trees? “Friends of Trees is a great organization. Everyone in the office, they’re so helpful, so kind and generous. They want everyone’s experience to be positive; they’ve offered so much training, which we are so grateful for.” Friends of Trees is equally grateful for the opportunity to enhance our organization and our community tree planting events through partnering with Alvey and everyone at Wisdom of the Elders.

Wisdom of the Elders records and preserves traditional cultural values, oral history, prophesy and other messages of guidance from indigenous elders in order to regenerate the greatness of culture among today’s and future generations of native peoples. Learn more at

Pictured above: Matt, Bruce, Dave and Will of Wisdom of the Elders at a recent SE Portland tree planting event.

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

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!

Join the Tree Team–be a Crew Leader!

“I have a few favorite things about crew leading. One, I get to interact with all kinds of different people; two, I get so many positive remarks and thank you-s for making people so happy—all because I’m wearing a colored vest that associates me with a great cause.” –Ryan, Friends of Trees Crew Leader

If you’ve planted trees with us, then you’ve met a Crew Leader. Crew Leaders are the friendly, knowledgeable folks who teach our volunteer tree-planters how to properly plant trees and use tools, and they’re your #1 go-to for help and questions at a Friends of Trees planting event.

Crew Leader is a key leadership position with Friends of Trees, and is ideal for people who love planting with Friends of Trees and who want to do a bit more. As a Crew Leader you gain valuable leadership skills and lots of tree knowledge! Plus, you get to spend a lot of time outside and you’ll meet an awesome assortment of new people.

So, ready to try something new? We train Crew Leaders every season and our fall trainings are coming up—Join us!

Hearing from our rookie Crew Leaders

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.

Alex , overseeing invasive plant removal with a another Crew Leader at a Green Space tree care event.

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.

Emily, (leftmost Crew Leader in orange vest), during our rainiest planting day in recent memory, December 2015.

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!

Wayne (center, orange vest), at his first Neighborhood Trees event. Dang, that’s a happy planting team!

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