Canopy in Action: Planting trees in Belle Haven | News | Almanac Online |


Canopy in Action: Planting trees in Belle Haven

Volunteers with Canopy, a Palo Alto-based nonprofit focused on planting and growing trees in Midpeninsula cities, spent a recent Saturday morning planting trees on Chilco Street near Belle Haven Elementary School in Menlo Park. (Photo courtesy of Jack Owicki/Pro Bono Photo.)

On a recent Saturday morning, nearly 100 people gathered at Belle Haven School, including Menlo Park's mayor and vice mayor and Facebook representatives, to plant 12 new trees along Chilco Street.

The project was a long time coming, explained Theresa Avedian, senior civil engineer with the city. Initially, the school fence had to be moved back from the road, and then the concrete cleared to prepare the ground for landscaping. Funding for that effort was split between a required contribution as part of the Bohannon Group's development agreement for its Menlo Gateway project, and a Facebook contribution.

The trees were a mix of valley, island and Engelmann oak varieties, chosen so that they'd provide shade to the portable classrooms they stand near during the summer and permit sunlight to pass through the branches during the winter when the leaves fall. They will help students to be more comfortable, explained Lauren Swezey, sustainability and community outreach manager at Facebook.

In addition, installing trees along the side of the road can create the illusion for drivers that the street is narrower, which naturally slows them down, Avedian noted.

Leading the tree planting efforts were high school students from Menlo-Atherton High School, Eastside College Prep and East Palo Alto Academy that Canopy had recruited to participate in its Teen Urban Forestry program. Student participants, called TUFs, are trained in forestry over the course of a semester and taught to lead tree planting efforts. The nonprofit also runs a service learning program at Oxford Day Academy in East Palo Alto.

According to Jack Dorsey, tree care and youth programs coordinator, the students spend one day after school each week, either Thursday or Friday, as well as most Saturdays, and weekdays during the summer, learning and leading programs.

Current TUFs are working to build a new park at an underutilized lot near Bayshore Christian Ministries in East Palo Alto. Over the course of the last nine months and several semesters, Dorsey said, students have gone through the landscape design process.

They are set to begin building the park on Nov. 16, according to Natalie Brubaker, education director at Canopy.

Dorsey, a former Canopy intern himself, said he's inspired by the goal of helping the students he works with to pursue careers in green fields.

Jada Riley, a senior at Eastside College Prep in East Palo Alto, is in her third year of working with Canopy as a "teen urban forester." In her time working with the nonprofit, she said, she's come to appreciate the Saturday morning ritual of going out and planting trees, even on the weekend days she'd like to sleep in.

In low-income neighborhoods in East Palo Alto, Riley said, "They look at nature like it's a privilege, but it shouldn't be seen as that. It should be something that we have, something that we take care of."

She added that trees can be expensive to plant, so when the funding does come through to do plantings in those areas, the community cherishes them.

Through her training, she's learned how to work with younger kids, which meant learning how to be more patient, she said, adding that she hopes to continue work with the nonprofit.

Junior Bresy Pedraza Perez, who's in her first year of the forestry program, said that the program has helped her find value in spending time building community and being outside, even while living in a region focused so much on tech. She said that with her training, she has a whole new appreciation for big trees when she sees them, knowing how much work goes into them.

As part of the program, teen urban foresters are paid the Palo Alto minimum wage – currently $15 per hour – and receive raises as they stay with the program over multiple semesters, said Operations Director Shannon McDonald. Funding comes from individual donors and a number of local family foundations.

According to its 2018 annual report, the nonprofit generated about 6,700 hours of volunteer work from 1,499 volunteers. It paid 18 teen urban forester interns.

Since it started, the nonprofit has planted about 1,000 trees at schools in the Ravenswood City School District, and has a new partnership with the Redwood City School District to plant trees there, as well as at schools in Mountain View.

• Related story: How a local nonprofit is fighting climate change, teaching stewardship and building community


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