Reflecting on our Urban Forestry training program as it enters its third season
The Adult Urban Forestry and Restoration Training and Internship program has completed its second year at Friends of Trees. This program, funded by the East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District, is a workforce development training program for historically underrepresented populations in the environmental field. Friends of Trees believes that everybody should have access to the benefits of trees, and that includes the workforce that takes care of the urban tree canopy and our green spaces.
In this program, participants were recruited from community-based organizations (CBOs) in the East Portland area: APANO, POIC, Verde, Wisdom of the Elders, and the Black Parent Initiative. With a cohort of 20 participants in the fall of 2019, participants engaged in a 10-week paid training program where they learned about different employment opportunities in the urban forestry and restoration fields, while gaining hands-on experience in the field.
Dinner, childcare stipends, transportation assistance, and payments to help reduce barriers were provided to help participants actively and fully engage in the opportunities during the training sessions. All 20 participants completed all 10 training sessions and were eligible to move on to their internships.
After the training sessions are complete, Friends of Trees matches participants with internship host sites where they can complete a paid internship to gain meaningful work experience in a field they’re interested in. In addition to Friends of Trees, intern sites include the Urban Forestry bureaus in Portland and Vancouver; the Backyard Habitat Program; Portland Parks & Recreation; and with local arborists.
In early 2020, we started pairing participants with internship host sites and many started working. However, in March 2020, many internship sites had to close down once quarantine started, and the internships were put on hold, even though many participants were looking forward to continuing work with their internship host sites and getting paid for it to help ease the financial stress the pandemic has brought on many people. While some host sites were able to start up again, under strict social distancing orders, others were not able to and some internships were forced to end early.
At the end of the second year of this program, we had six participants complete their internships. However, these six participants were able to complete multiple iterations of their internships with the host sites (learn more about one example of this below) because we were able to support them with funding that became available due to other internships ending early because of COVID. Because of the work experience some of the interns gained, one of them now has a full-time job in the environmental field.
The end of the internship program was unexpected, however, we tried to support the internships as best we could. As we move into a new reality this upcoming fall, we are moving to virtual training sessions that will be a hybrid of in-person sessions when the weather allows and pre-recorded webinars participants can view. We know that workforce development will be even more necessary as we transition into the fall and winter, and Friends of Trees is committed to supporting our partners and this program in providing an essential service.
Photo above: Program participant Letty Martinez, getting hands-on experience planting trees at the Dharma Rain Center in NE Portland. Letty participated in the program throughPathways to Farming.
Get to Know Sandra and Viviana
Urban Forestry Program Interns – and so much more
Sandra and Viviana started their Friends of Trees experience through participating in our Urban Forestry Training Program, which they learned of through program partner Verde. Since Viviana was learning English their 11 year old son, Aidan, attended all of the sessions with his parents so he could help Viviana with translation. Program coordinator (and FOT EDI Specialist) Surabhi Mahajan likes to say that, “not only did Aidan learn everything that Sandra and Viviana learned, since Aidan was always at Vivian’s side they were actually two and a half program participants!”
When it came time for the internship part of the training program Sandra and Viviana (+ Aidan!) wanted an assignment where they could be together, and the best fit was with Friends of Trees’ Neighborhood Trees Program. The trio helped with all aspects of planting events; Sandra was usually found at the staging location, helping in the kitchen and at the site, while Viviana and Aidan helped with trees and joined planting crews. An added bonus was that since Viviana and Sandra were trained Crew Leaders they could help in that role, too.
“We learned how united people are when it comes to helping the community,” Sandra & Viviana shared when asked about the #1 thing they learned in the training program. They continued with an equally important takeaway, “We also learned how important it is to know why we need to plant trees.”
Sandra, Viviana and Aidan were happily busy with planting events until March, when COVID-19 turned everything upside down. Like so many community members, COVID hit their household hard when Viviana lost her job. Which became an opportunity.
Since COVID canceled all remaining Friends of Trees planting events, we needed help planting trees, so Sandra and Viviana’s internship turned into something more when they became a temporary – and very necessary – part of our planting team. They worked as their own pod, using their own car and tools, and were able to continue their Friends of Trees experience, continuing to gain work experience and leadership skills.
“Sandra, Viviana and, of course Aidan, made a huge difference in our ability to get all of our trees planted!” Surabhi shares. “And we were able to empower this family through providing continuous work and some stability. We aren’t typically able to provide this sort of employment opportunity, and we are just really glad we could help these folks who are part of our community.”
The couple echoes the importance of community when they talk about what they think the most important part of the Urban Forestry training program is, “This program really helps unite the community and it helps with the environment.”
Above photos of Sandra (left, with Tree Team member Michelle) & Vivian in action at our February planting event in NE Portland.
Rainbow Valley is dedicated to being a positive contributor to the community. This local company has made major contributions to Friends of Trees and to planting and caring for trees in Eugene and Springfield.
Thanks to Jon Clark, FOT Eugene Metro Advisory Board member and Rainbow Valley Outdoor Spaces Manager, Rainbow Valley has their own watering tank trailer for their employees to utilize. Over the last two summers, they have helped water hundreds of young trees. Rainbow Valley has been a great supporter of our annual Celebration of Trees event, with Steve Gab speaking at our last event in 2019, and Jon and Ali McQueen helping host and pour beverages. We look forward to growing our relationship with these amazing partners and sponsors to grow healthier communities, together.
Stay connected! Visit, like, follow and engage with the Eugene Tree Team on ourFacebookandInstagrampages.
Photo: Rainbow Valley’s recently retired co-owner, Steve Gab, with their FOT watering tank trailer.
The Black Resilience Fund is an emergency fund dedicated to healing and resilience by providing immediate resources to Black Portlanders. Donations to the fund help provide essentials such as warm meals, groceries, help with utility bills, and helping hands for yard work (find out more about volunteering to help with yard work below).
“During a time of tumult and uncertainty, the BRF has provided some much needed financial breathing room. And it’s moments like these that affirm how powerful our love for each other can truly be. Let’s keep raising hope together.”-Assistance recipient
Are you looking for an opportunity to put on your gardening gloves this summer? Do you want to give back to the Black community? The Black Resilience Fundhas a great opportunity for volunteers to do yard work for Black homeowners and renters in the Portland area. Although true systematic change will take time and long term sustainable efforts, we can help make an immediate difference for our fellow community members. Learn more here, and register for a volunteer training here.
Other ways to get involved:
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