The LA River: From “Bad Dream” to Green

Fed-up with the physical appearance of your neighborhood? Aching for a change? It’s simple, really; just jumpstart a stalled nonprofit! Meet Rick Rabins—husband, former jeweler, TreePeople Citizen Forester, and acting president of the nonprofit organization The Village Gardeners (his “full-time gig on the side”).

Rick Rabins’ story begins when he realized an oleander scorch disease was wiping out the plants in front of his house on the Los Angeles River. “After having a beautiful hedge like that….” he reflects, “having that deadwood—it’s like a bad dream.” Determined to reverse the process, he knocked on doors of his neighbors until one referred him to Annette Fuller—an original founder of what would become The Village Gardeners. So, armed only with a $3,000 bank account and support from his neighbors, he decided to revive the dormant organization.

His path collided with Treepeople when he decided to take one of our urban forestry workshops. “I thought it was a great thing for the public to have at their disposal…for people that are interested in planting trees, helping their communities, and helping their environment,” he states. “My level of awareness for the environment has gone up.” And he brought that increased awareness right back home to his neighborhood by teaming up with Treepeople. Over the span of two events, Rick Rabins and Treepeople worked to prune beautiful native toyons and coffee berry shrubs along the banks of the LA River.

But The Village Gardeners haven’t stopped there. Their continuing quest to take care of their section of the LA River has led them to begin a Mixed Media Mural project (the first of its kind on the LA River), host Earth Day events, and even implement an Adopt-A Riverbank Sponsorship Program. Their recent groundbreaking was the pinnacle of their exciting programs; Rabins describes the event as “a wish come true” for the all-volunteer organization. He characterizes their dedication in a pithy phrase: “We made a commitment.” And this commitment has turned a barren stretch of Los Angeles River-side into a beautiful part of the Los Angeles ecosystem.


This blog post was a combined effort of two TreePeople storytelling interns. Appreciation to both Bethany Ritz and Emma Schiffer.

By Emma Schiffer

Emma Schiffer has been a TreePerson since third grade; she got involved when her class sold popcorn to raise money for Treepeople. Although she wasn't selected to bear the symbolic giant check to Treepeople's headquarters, she harbored no grudges and continued to volunteer with them throughout high school. She currently attends UC Berkeley and is working as Treepeople's storytelling and photography management intern during the summer.