Our youth programming creates opportunities for young people to engage with nature
Getting youth excited about trees and green spaces is one of the best parts about our work. Friends of Trees engaged over 250 young people through youth programming this season!
“I had kids coming up to me and saying, ‘this is your job?!’” Green Space Specialist Kaitie Benedek says of her time working with students from CF Tigard Elementary School and Fowler Middle School. On five different planting days, 5th, 6th, and 7th grade classes planted native plants at Woodard Park and Dirksen Nature Park, which is adjacent to the middle school’s campus.
“We’d have classes of 25 at a time planting for one class period, so it was super fast,” Kaitie says. “So many kids got excited about planting, and about getting to contribute to this park right by their school. A lot of the kids even named their plants.”
Students from Cascade Education Corps (CEC) helped lead the plantings. CEC members are high school students following an alternative path to graduation by working on hands-on environmental projects. They spend three days per week out in the field working on restoration projects sponsored by other Tree for All partners, including Clean Water Services and Friends of Trees. With elementary, middle and high schoolers working together and people walking by in the park offering encouragement, the plantings at Dirksen and Woodard had a wonderful intergenerational feel to them.
That spirit of connection and mentorship was present at Oregon Trail Elementary too, where forestry students from the Sabin-Schellenberg Center helped facilitate a full day of hands-on environmental education.
“Teachers and parent chaperones were very happy to get the kids outside,” says Green Space Specialist Meng Vue. “These kids weren’t afraid to get dirty.”
Students rotated through five different stations, learning to plant and mulch, decorating wood cookies, and learning about the local ecology with skulls, pelts, and pine cones. The goal was to show students all aspects of a healthy watershed and how planting native plants is an important component of that.
“When you get students involved in learning about the environment, appreciating the place and engaging with it, they’ll take those lessons home and share them,” Meng says.
Harrison Layer, another Green Space Specialist, echoes the importance of opening those doors through education. “When I was young, I saw nature as a big green blob. What are the ways to start to get curious?”
Harrison works closely with students from Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center (POIC), a nonprofit that connects high school youth with career training, including partnering with Friends of Trees. POIC students train as crew leaders and lead Friends of Trees plantings throughout the season.
“We had several students from last year come back this year,” Harrison says, “and it was great to see them grow into a leadership role. The mix of veteran and new students worked really well.”
Working with the POIC crew for an entire season means that you can see amazing growth in skills and confidence. “Everyone grew in their public speaking ability,” Harrison says. “By the end of the season, we had some students who demonstrated the confidence to represent their program through elevator pitches to large groups of volunteers at the beginning of our events.”
In addition to helping at plantings, POIC students got to go on several field trips, including mountain biking at Gateway Green, studying ecosystems at Whitaker Ponds Nature Park, and getting to know turtles and amphibians at Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge.
“One of the students at Oaks Bottom referred to this program as ‘unlocking’ new places for them to know and appreciate, much like a video game,” Harrison says. “I loved that!”
Friends of Trees’ partnerships contribute to environmental education for K-12 students; adult job training programs; paid internships connecting underserved communities to the urban forestry field; greening low canopy neighborhoods; and so much more.
“Thank you for letting us come and plant with you, it was a GREAT experience. I learned that planting trees keeps us healthy and alive. It was a great opportunity to learn and also to be outside.” Kara, 4th grade, Friends of Trees-Charles F. Tigard Elementary School partnership
“American children now spend an average of only four to seven minutes per day playing outdoors, compared with over seven hours per day in front of a screen.” (National Recreation and Park Association) That alone justifies our work with more than 2,000 young people in a typical season.
Friends of Trees’ educational programming actively and meaningfully connects youth of all ages with nature. We’re in the classroom with information about the benefits of trees, and we’re outside, actively planting and caring for trees with young people. Our work with high school students includes leadership skill building and job training through paid internships.
“I got so much out of this experience. One of the biggest things was building my confidence and helping me have a voice. When I first started Crew Leading I thought there was no way that older people would actually listen to me when I tried to explain how to do things. But they did! And I made so many connections with people I would have otherwise never talked to.” Angelica, Rosemary Anderson High School/POIC student; Friends of Trees’ youth program participant
We have longstanding partnerships with Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center and The Blueprint Foundation’s Grounding Waters Program through which high school student interns receive stipends for job-training—including leadership opportunities—with Friends of Trees.
Our work with elementary and middle school students includes hands-on, outdoor field work combined with classroom curriculum. As part of our EDI efforts we conduct an EDI training for the teachers we partner with, emphasizing equal access to trees; safe spaces; welcoming & inclusive language; how to respond to problematic language.
Learn more about our partnership with The Blueprint Foundation:
Read about our Adult Workforce Training program here, and learn more here:
Through Project Zero young people are creating cleaner, greener communities
Project Zero intern Adrián Moreno just completed his internship with Friends of Trees and to celebrate the milestone he recently guest-starred on our Instagram account to share a little bit about his experience:
“I wanted to help mitigate the environmental crisis that we are all living right now, so I applied to the PGE Project Zero intern position and got the job! Through this internship I got to be involved in the process of creating, maintaining, and restoring green spaces.
“I also got to build and maintain community with people who want to help the environment. I was able to learn new skills and experience new environments. Before this day, I was afraid of public speaking.”
Taaj Armstrong, PGE Dean of Cohort, talks a bit about Project Zero, “Environmental stewardship is one of PGE Project Zero’s core components; with equity as a large driver, we knew that a strategic partnership with Friends of Trees would be integral in reducing the negative health impacts of climate change on low-income communities, Indigenous populations and communities of color. We were also thrilled that Friends of Trees is a partner in PGE Project Zero Works, helping to design the green jobs internship program, and hosting a PGE Project Zero intern, which has been wildly successful.”
We loved working with Adrián and are excited to share that he’s still on the Tree Team through another of our educational programs, “I really appreciate the opportunity that FOT has given me and I’ll continue working with them through the Adult Urban Forestry Training Program and complete my career in environmental economics!”
Photo: Adrián in action during his Project Zero internship.
Meet The Blueprint Foundation
“I like the feeling of getting my hands dirty because I feel like I did something. It’s a good feeling.”
Lashay, Friends of Trees intern through the Blueprint Foundation
Friends of Trees is fortunate to have relationships with quite a few local nonprofit organizations that benefit under-served communities, such as communities of color, at-risk youth, and neighborhoods with very little tree canopy. These partnerships help make trees accessible to community members who may not otherwise have access to all that trees do for us.
The Blueprint Foundation works to expose Black urban youth to learning opportunities they usually do not get to access. Friends of Trees is proud to be a partner to the Blueprint Foundation’s Grounding Waters program, where students learn about careers in environmental science while taking an active role in environmental stewardship.
“One of the first and most consistent activities we’ve had our kids do is the Friends of Trees neighborhood plantings, which allows them to connect with their neighbors, as well as do something directly beneficial to their own community, that they see, that has permanence.” – Jason Stroman, Program Director, The Blueprint Foundation; Friends of Trees Board of Directors
The Friends of Trees – Blueprint Foundation partnership introduces Black youth to jobs in the urban forestry field. Students receive stipends to gain job and leadership skills through training and participating with Friends of Trees as Summer Tree Inspectors and tree planting Crew Leaders.
The Blueprint-Friends of Trees partnership helps connect young people to the environment, while also supporting a historically underrepresented community’s access to nature and its benefits by decreasing barriers to participation. “The ultimate goal,” Jason points out, “is to eliminate the opportunity gap that we see for Black youth.”
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!