Ten New Trees Welcomed in Atwater Village

After working at TreePeople for five years, and attending many Citizen Forester events, I finally led my own tree planting. I’ve always known that TreePeople’s Citizen Foresters are amazing people, but I’ve never understood precisely what these volunteers go through to lead plantings in their neighborhoods.

In my personal life, I am a board member for the Atwater Village Neighborhood Council. Awhile back, Jerry, one of my fellow board members, mentioned that a section of North Atwater desperately needed trees. He looped me into the project concept, and we worked with the city and a local landscape architect to build a simple plan to plant ten trees (six Western Redbuds and four Catalina Ironwoods) on the street.

It took over a year and a half with numerous fits and starts, but finally our planting day came on December 14. Terri, the landscape architect, had the trees ready for us at her house, and Jerry had the site prepped. The TreePeople truck rumbled through the neighborhood to the planting site, and three of our rockstar Volunteer Supervisors—Art, Peter and Thierry arrived to help prep the site.

Soon we were joined by folks from the nearby church, local residents, and students from schools in the area. Once Forestry Manager Danny finished with his safety talk and planting demo (infused of course with his wit and charm), the crowd was off and running to plant those trees.

I assumed the role of troubleshooter as the event got underway, helping to fill water buckets, delivering extra shovels, generally filling in the gaps that I could. As I raced back and forth over the two blocks of the planting site, a van from the Junior Blind of America rolled up. Six blind college students had arrived and wanted to help.

This gave me pause—how were we to integrate this group into our tight-knit event? I sweated the details: the sidewalk is really narrow and cracked, there are tools everywhere, what tasks can these guys take on? But immediately the group put me at ease.

I decided to have the group pair up, Harrison with Anthony, Javon with Brenda, and Sarah with Andrew. I led the pairs to different tree planting sites. As I walked them, they asked questions about what was going on: “What kinds of trees are being planted?” “What kind of neighborhood are we in?” “Who is volunteering to plant?” “Why plant the trees here?”

Their questions centered me. Ordinarily at a tree planting I’m watching the minor details, making sure that one task or another is being accomplished. Working with this group, and answering their questions compelled me to look at the bigger picture as it was occurring. We planted the trees because the neighborhood needs more shade and beauty. The volunteers from the church and the neighborhood came out because they wanted to help bring more life to the neighborhood. It’s corny, but the phrase “seeing the forest for the trees” totally applies here.

Ten trees were successfully planted in Atwater Village that day. And for that I’m very thankful. Thanks so much to Jerry Hoffman for instigating the planting and building the plan. Thanks to Terri Parker for lending her expertise and spirit. Thanks to my friend and coworker Danny Carmichael for being a steady force while I stressed about the details. Thanks to Art Salter, Peter Diep and Thierry Rivard for being awesome volunteer leaders. Thanks to the residents of North Atwater and the congregation at New Life Vision Church that came out. And thanks to Harrison, Anthony, Javon, Brenda, Sarah and Andrew for helping me to understand the impact of what we did that day.

By Torin Dunnavant

Torin is TreePeople’s Director of Engagement and Partnerships. He serves on the board of the Atwater Village Neighborhood Council. Originally from Sacramento, he enjoys exploring L.A.’s many neighborhoods and natural treasures, and roots for the Oakland A’s.