Community-based tree care organizations are a critical component of tree longevity in many cities and towns. These organizations provide training for volunteers to become advocates and stewards of trees in their neighborhoods. At Tree Pittsburgh, a non-profit in Pittsburgh, PA, this program is called Tree Tenders.
Last week I talked to Tree Tender Nicole Moga. This week I talked to Kim Collins, who has also been a Tree Tender for several years, about what this role means to her.
How did you learn about Tree Pittsburgh’s Tree Tenders program?
Kim Collins [KC]: I just did a search online! I live in a neighborhood called South Side, where generally there aren’t many street trees. Those that we do have are often in poor shape. I had planted a tree in front of my own house when I bought it, but wanted to find out how to get more trees throughout the neighborhood.
Through the Tree Pittsburgh [TP] website, I learned that you could form a neighborhood group to apply for community trees. I knew there was no project like that currently under way in South Side, so I decided to start it myself. I became a Tree Tender in spring of 2009 and have been doing community tree planting work since then.
What was your first project? How did you get started?
KC: Well, the way it works here is that every property that wants a tree has to be part of the application process. So if you’re trying to organize a bigger planting – say for a whole block — it involves going door-to-door to talk to your neighbors about the planting and getting their consent. I started out with my block, where I already knew the most people, and walked around talking to everyone about planting more trees. Mostly it was really easy to get people on board, although in some cases I had to work on changing negative perceptions of trees.
How much previous experience with tree care did you have?
KC: None, I just knew I wanted more of them on my street. I grew up in Jamestown, NY, where there are trees everywhere, so to me they are just a part of the urban fabric. Seeing my neighborhood here in Pittsburgh go from being relatively tree-less to having lots and lots of trees has been transformative. It’s really changed the landscape of the South Side community.
How did you get people in your neighborhood to support this cause?
KC: I’m a graphic designer, so I knew that branding what we wanted to do as a project would help our cause. I gave it an official name – South Side Pittsburgh Tree Project — and created a logo for it.
Then I used both the name and the logo on all of the materials I created to promote our work, like posters, a website, and a big banner. This brought a ton of awareness and legitimacy to the project and really drew people together. It took the goal of planting more trees – which is already an easy cause to get behind – and helped to form it into a sort of micro-organization with a shared purpose and identity for all of us.
So is it fair to say that being a Tree Tender has had a big impact on your role in the neighborhood?
KC: For me, it’s been huge. I’ve become involved in a lot of other community projects in South Side because of it. People in urban areas tend to have a “you are your own island” mindset, and being a Tree Tender meant that I had to be more outgoing in my own community. This meant I had to put myself out there and get to know my neighbors and local businesses in a way I hadn’t done before.
Now I’m a member of the South Side Chamber of Commerce, the South Side Soup Contest (a local community event), and the Historic South Side home tour – all things that probably would never have happened if I hadn’t started as a Tree Tender.
What would you tell someone considering getting more involved in tree care in their neighborhood?
KC: I’ve just had a lot of fun being a Tree Tender. A big part of that is that I’ve seen an incredible transformation in the look and feel of our community, which is extremely gratifying. In addition to that, it’s been a great social experience as well.
A ton of people volunteer their time to make improvements in their community. One of the best parts of that is that it helps other people to see how easy it is to get involved and to volunteer their own time as well.
One big realization I’ve had is that there is so much initiative you can take within your own community. Just because something like tree planting is not your paying job, it doesn’t mean that you have no influence. Quite the opposite — you can have a huge impact! No one needs to give you permission to take a role in making your neighborhood a nicer place.
All Images: Kim Collins