The Heart and Soul of Our City Forest
Fall 2008 Tree Amigo Graduates
Our City Forest's pride is its trained volunteer corps known as "Tree Amigos". Tree Amigos have facilitated the planting and caring of over 40,000 shade trees. Over 500 Santa Clara County residents have attended the 17-hour training course for Tree Amigos to learn about trees in the urban environment. After graduation, Tree Amigos assist Our City Forest with tree plantings, tree care projects and education programs in neighborhoods and at schools. A good description of a Tree Amigo is a "coach". They help residents and students plant and care for their trees.
Training and a good support system enables volunteers to make tremendous contributions. Tree Amigo Sandy Jacobsen recently told fellow volunteers at their monthly support meeting, "Since becoming a Tree Amigo, I actually carry a hammer in my car so I can easily remove old tree ties. When I first approach the property owners, they are a little taken aback. When I show them how the ties are killing the trees, they feel terrible. They simply don't know that the ties are supposed to be removed and they are grateful for the help."
This outcome of the training is just what Our City Forest aims for. "You don't have to know what kind of species a tree is to know that it is choking to death," says Our City Forest's Rhonda Berry. "And it is very empowering for volunteers to realize how much they are needed. That is what we tell them in the very first class. You are needed. That is by far and away the most important thing to teach."
The course attracts volunteers from all walks of life. Included in the Tree Amigo corps are engineers, teachers, a school bus driver, stay-at-home moms, facility managers, bank executives, principals, retirees and students. Tree Amigos come from Sunnyvale, Los Gatos, Milpitas, Santa Clara, Cupertino, Campbell, as well as San José. There are Tree Amigo families including couples and parents with children. Tree Amigos cover the ethnic spectrum as well, including bi-lingual volunteers who speak Chinese, Spanish, Vietnamese, Tagalog, and Japanese.
The common ground for the volunteers is the desire to make a positive difference in their community. The training course is designed to build on their passion by making the science of urban forestry simple and fun. Some find that volunteering can be a good way to learn job skills and even find a job.
The volunteer Tree Amigo training course includes a 3-hour tour of San Jose's downtown trees, training on planting and tree care techniques, a trip to a tree nursery and a session on community organizing. Tree Amigos are recognized with a certificate on graduation day, as well as an official t-shirt.
Tree Amigos are truly the "heart and soul" of Our City Forest. They not only make a difference…they are the difference.