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National Volunteer Week: It Takes a Village

We let you know it was coming, and now it’s finally here – National Volunteer Week! We’ll be highlighting the great work our volunteers do all week long on social media – including how many trees you’ve planted in 2016! – but we had to ask some of our rock star volunteers why they have committed so much to Casey Trees and our efforts to re-tree D.C.

So who exactly did we chat with? Alvin Figer has been a Team Leader at community tree plantings and is now a registration volunteer helping everyone get prepped. A longtime supporter of Casey Trees – she interned with us after moving to D.C. – Maki Tazawa has almost done it all. A recent addition to the Casey Trees family, Kristen Bonner dove right in and is now a Team Leader! And finally, we asked Brian Watts, a recent Citizen Forester turned Team Leader for his thoughts.

 Casey Trees: How did you get involved with Casey Tees?
Alvin Figer:
In 2014, I did my first tree planting at Wilson High School. I was looking online for volunteer opportunities that aligned with my passion to help the environment. I did a Google Search and came across Casey Trees. I emailed the contact online and got a response right away from Erica Young and that is how it all began.

Kristin Bonner: I receive volunteer emails at my job and Casey Trees was listed. I’ve always liked working outdoors so figured I would give tree planting a shot.

Maki Tazawa: Casey Trees was the first internship I ever had when I moved to D.C. for college in 2010 and joined as the Education Intern!

Brian Watts: I wrote a research paper on urban forestry in graduate school and once I moved to Washington, D.C., I knew I had to get involved!

CT:  Why do you think planting, advocating for, and caring for trees in D.C. is so important?
Trees are essential in our environment and we need to share the land with these magnificent entities. They need us to advocate for more shared spaces because otherwise they would be forgotten.

KB: Without trees we wouldn’t be able to sustain life, and they are so important for the health of our city and our climate. I think it’s important to give back in any way that we can, and to adopt and support sustainable habits so we can leave the Earth a little better than we found it.

MT: D.C. is a beautiful city that has the opportunity to improve upon its history, communities and natural areas by planting more trees and reaching the canopy goal and beyond. With all of the benefits that trees have for both people and the local environment, and the socioeconomic advantages this provides to communities and the city at-large makes planting trees one of the cheapest ways to improve our city.

BW: Generally speaking, trees are amazing and the benefits they give are quite often overlooked. In the city, planting, advocating, and caring for trees gives us another way to connect to nature and helps to express the importance of nature to our friends, family, and strangers alike.

CT: What is the best part of planting a tree?
AF: Having a 3 year old at home, I love being able to tell him that I planted a tree when he was born to symbolize how much I love him and trees. He can see how much the trees I have planted grew as he grows into a young man.

KB: Digging the hole is always a fun chore, but my favorite is when the tree is in the ground and the group is able to take a step back and admire the hard work they just accomplished.

MT: I’m not going to lie and say the pizza for lunch isn’t a huge part of my personal joy in the community tree plantings, but the best part of planting a tree in general is that there isn’t just one impact that tree will have. You know that day after day that tree is going to bring someone joy from its beauty, cool them off with its shade, will help with stormwater runoff in the city, support the habitat for cute little critters, or myriad other benefits it will provide for people and the environment alike.

BW: Coffee! But seriously, meeting new people who enjoy volunteering. It’s also so much fun to meet people who have never planted a tree and see how rewarding it is to do so!

MT: You can volunteer in whatever way and however much you want: you can volunteer once a year with your friends at a community tree planting, you can take a Trees 101 class alone for your own knowledge expansion with no pressure, you can sign up to be an outreach volunteer for a whole season and not have to pick up a single shovel. Casey Trees doesn’t ask for any time commitments like some other volunteer organizations and most of the events don’t need any prior training.

CT:  What would you tell someone who is on the fence about volunteering with Casey Trees? Any advice?
I would tell them you do not need to have any experience at all with planting or if you think you do not have a “green thumb.”  With the assistance of great volunteer team leaders and with the experience Casey tree facilitators have, you do not need to worry.  I would also mention the great food and it is a great opportunity to work together with any club, church, school, etc.

KB: Go do it! Its great exercise and for a great cause! Volunteering with CT will also teach you how a tree is supposed to be properly planted and there’s something new to learn at every planting.

BW: Hop that fence! There are plenty of Saturdays to come, take the time to give back and you won’t regret it. It’s wonderful to get out early, do something for the greater good, and then enjoy the rest of your Saturday.

CT: What compels you to volunteer season after season?
AF: Knowing that I am helping the environment and that my family has something to inherit and enjoy in the future.

KB: It’s just fun and a great way to meet new people. I also love going to the different parts of D.C. where the tree plantings occur, which connects me more with the city.

MT: This is an important mission that is critical to bettering sustainability and community issues in the district, and it is a lovely and fun community to be a part of. Personally, it’s a simple and fun way to contribute to something I connect with (community tree plantings being my favorite way to spend a Saturday) and it brings a great deal of joy to me to walk around the city, see Casey Trees water bags on trees and know that I’m part of this effort.

BW: The growing need for afforestation in urban areas and the community building that planting trees fosters.

CT:  Last but not least, do you have a favorite tree?
AF: All native trees are my favorite!

KB: I don’t see them too much (or ever here), but in Florida we have live oak trees that are absolutely stunning. They add a certain aged/majestic characteristic wherever I have seen them. By far my favorite tree.

MT: Eastern Redbud if I have to pick just one local one!

BW: The Sycamore – Platanus occidentalis.

We’re a lucky organization to work with talented and all around awesome volunteers. Check out our volunteer opportunities to get involved and stay tuned for the rest of our National Volunteer Week coverage!

Collective Knowledge: Why Casey Trees and UFA Road Tripped to Trees NY

Did you know we have a pilot Citizen Pruner Program with the Urban Forestry Administration (UFA)? The goal of this program is to help us execute the ‘protect’ part of our mission to restore, enhance, and protect the tree canopy of D.C. Members of our education and tree planting team recently headed to New York City to learn a few tips and tricks of the trade from Trees New York, which has a thriving Citizen Pruners program.

Laura Bassett, Acting Director Education, noted that “when we launched a pilot pruning corps program this year in partnership with the Urban Forestry Administration, we’re really excited to work with the city and our volunteers to care for street trees.” However, when designing the pilot the team soon realized this was a perfect opportunity for industry collaboration. Trees New York and New York City has a citizen pruner program that has been around for over 40 years. It was the perfect opportunity for Casey Trees and UFA to road trip to New York to learn about their program, participate in a volunteer event, and meet their volunteers.

Little did everyone know how much they would learn! Volunteer Coordinator Erica Young was especially interested in amazing tree mapping website/program, where residents are able to click on individual street trees in their neighborhood and learn about the impact that tree is making in terms of stormwater, air quality, and more.

While the Pruning Corps is still a pilot program, Casey Trees and UFA have lofty visions. Steve McKindley-Ward, an Urban Forester from UFA wants “volunteer street tree pruners who will be trained to identify structural problems in young trees—and nip those problems “in the bud” with judicious pruning cuts, thus heading off future architectural problems along the streets of D.C.” A couple of old adages come to mind when thinking about Steve’s goals for the program:  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and a stitch in time saves nine. He elaborates, “if we can spot potential issues and prune them out of the tree this year with trained volunteers, 10-20 years later that will translate into a much larger limb NOT splitting off in a storm—because corrective, pro-active measures were taken early in the tree’s life.”

The great news is we’ve rallied together to increase our tree canopy by planting tens of thousands of trees over the last few years. The not so great news is that life is tough for an urban street tree and they need people to help care for them. Laura and Erica echo Steve’s vision by saying, “our volunteers can prune these young trees to encourage good branch structure so they live to become canopy trees.”

Ultimately Laura noted, “I think this trip underscored the importance of strong partnerships in caring for our urban forest. Uniting the efforts of the community with the efforts of city arborists and nonprofit groups creates powerful results. The pruning program is another opportunity to build a community in D.C. that will continue to care for our urban trees.”

Cheers to that!

#ICYMI: Meet the Fourth Annual Canopy Awards Honorees!

The Canopy Awards is not just a great party — it’s also our unique way of honoring the people and partners working to promote and protect D.C.’s tree canopy.

We’re pleased to announce the 2017 Canopy Awards honorees:

Award for Partnership: Douglas Solomon and Shake Shack of Union Station

If you attended a community tree planting in the past year, chances are you’ve seen Douglas Solomon. He’s the one passing out delicious Shake Shack breakfast sandwiches to tree planters with a bright smile on his face – no matter how early in the morning or cold outside it is. His enthusiasm shines whether he and his team are planting trees or whether they are handing out treats at the Canopy Awards.

Each Shake Shack location has a partner in the community to which they graciously dedicate their time to outside of their shifts. We are lucky to have been chosen by the Union Station Shack team three years ago when they first opened. Over the years Douglas and his staff have partnered with us on countless events, supporting Casey Trees’ other volunteers with the great food and fun hospitality that Shake Shack is known for.

“The most rewarding part for me has been engaging more with the people and places of D.C.,” Douglas says. “I am able to connect the dots with new people I meet when they see our sign about Casey Trees or when they see me in a Casey Trees shirt.  When passing a place with friends where I have been a part of the planting, I can tell the story of Casey Trees and how fun it is.”

Award for Education: Amy Jagodnik

As Garden Coordinator at Horace Mann Elementary School, Amy Jagodnik has been bringing the importance of tree and garden care to students for the past five years.

After being first inspired by participating in the school’s first tree planting in 2010, Amy has helped execute two tree plantings at the school.  As an involved Citizen Scientist, she works alongside the school’s science program guiding students to embrace tree identification, health, and tracking.

Whether organizing volunteers to maintain campus grounds and outdoor classrooms, educating children about the importance and technique of caring for a plant or garden, planning improvements to our landscapes, or designing curriculum around the environment, Amy is doing all that she can to facilitate care for our part of the planet.

“I believe that teaching children about the wonder of nature is paramount to their future sense of stewardship for the earth. It will be their responsibility going forward.  I want children to know that we need trees for life support and that they deserve our respect and care.”

Award for Volunteer Service: Greg and Kerrin Nishimura

From summer intern to Lead Citizen Forester, Kerrin has been volunteering with Casey Trees for the past 12 years and has planted an estimated 425 trees. As a Team Leader, Kerrin has led countless other volunteers in tree plantings, and helped to train even more Citizen Foresters.

Greg has participated in over 80 Casey Trees events and has been Lead Citizen Forester at two plantings since he first became involved 13 years ago.

The personal connections Kerrin has grown within the Casey Tree’s community is what makes the volunteering experience all the more wholesome. Kerrin and Greg met while both taking part in a Dutch Elm Disease inventory as interns, and now work together to make their city the greenest it can be for their family.

“The most rewarding part about the hours and years I’ve dedicated to Casey Trees is knowing that in 20 years I can bring my daughter back to all those places that her father and I have planted trees and she’ll be able to see the good work that we’ve done. She’ll be able to put her hands on a living symbol of our love for the environment and for the city itself,” Kerrin says.

Award for Leadership: Earl Eutsler and UFA

The mission of the Urban Forestry Administration is to manage and increase the District’s street trees and to maintain healthy trees across the city.

This team of nearly 30 work together to maintain D.C. trees which provide improved air quality, temperature moderation, increased ground water retention and many more benefits.

The Administration works to provide proper and expeditious services such as pruning, small tree removals and clean-up of tree debris and stumps in order to provide safe sidewalk and street clearance to the residents of the District, and also provides educational information to District residents about the benefits of growing trees and encourage planting appropriate tree species in our urban environment.

Learn more about what makes each of these honorees so spectacular at Canopy Awards this Arbor Day Eve — Thursday, April 27 —and congratulate them in person! Get your ticket today:

Want to make a greater commitment to re-treeing D.C.? Become a Canopy Awards sponsor! There are multiple levels of support to choose from, so find the one that works best for you.

Taking it Back to Basics at Casey Tree Farm

Continuing our theme of highlighting women in the forestry field, we sat down with Janet Miller, an arborist at the Urban Forestry Administration (UFA). Janet was a part of the entire UFA team -25 people! – who were able to tour the Casey Tree Farm out in Berryville, V.A. As you can imagine, the goals of UFA and Casey Trees align seamlessly. While they tackle the requests surrounding street trees, we coordinate with them on larger projects like our Pruning Corps, and major joint plantings like Suitland Parkway.

How did Miller get involved in forestry in the first place? A bit of a winding path. Originally from rural Virginia, she grew up surrounded by green spaces, enjoyed wandering around outdoors, and caring for her family’s many animals. Initially an Animal Science major at Virginia Tech, Miller switched to Urban Forestry and the rest is history. After stints in Ohio and Michigan, Miller ended up at UFA here in Washington, D.C. UFA is a division of the District Department of Transportation and primarily works “to manage and increase the District’s street trees to maintain healthy trees.”

For Miller, working with Casey Trees has been a valuable experience. While they were able to tour the facilities and grounds, the highlight of the Casey Tree Farm visit for Miller and UFA was the tree nursery. As an arborist, Miller said that it was beneficial to see the different methods for containing and transporting trees, and how that process can affect their root structure and the overall tree growth and health. Above all, Miller said she valued being able to see trees in their natural places of growth out in the rural land.

The visit was a building block in the relationship between our two organizations as we work together to successfully re-tree D.C.  and reach our 40% canopy goal.

Home Stretch: One Month till Arbor Day

Now that it is finally spring, and warmer weather is (hopefully) here to stay, it’s time to turn our attention to the next big event – no not the Final Four – Arbor Day!

What better way to celebrate our trees and urban forest than by getting your hands dirty helping support it? There are so many ways to get involved this Arbor Day. Kicking off the festivities is Earth Day, which falls on April 22. We’ll be tackling our largest planting of the year, Suitland Parkway, and you can join friends and help clean up the Anacostia River, or put your citizen science skills to the test and volunteer at the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens.

The festivities really ramp up on Arbor Day Eve at the Fourth Annual Canopy Awards – get your tickets to revel in the fun. No matter where you are in the DMV, Arbor Day celebrations are everywhere. What better way to spend Arbor Day than on the National Mall inventorying trees?

Regardless of how you celebrate our trees, although we do hope it’s with us, we appreciate your continued support of our mission. We couldn’t restore, enhance, or protect the urban canopy of our nation’s capital without you.