By Ann Green
Greenville, S.C. (March 4, 2010)- It’s appropriate that Joelle Teachey’s name contains the word “teach.” That’s a big part of her mission as executive director of TreesGreenville, the non-profit organization that since its founding in 2005 has planted more than 1,500 trees in Greenville.
“Our mission is to plant, promote and protect trees. We educate residents about the benefits of trees. We don’t do advocacy. We focus on education, helping people learn how to plant trees properly and care for them,” said Teachey, who teaches environmental science at USC Upstate in Spartanburg. TreesGreenville plants nine varieties of oak, maple, birch, poplar, dogwood and other native trees, and trees that can tolerate drought. Its work can be seen in neighborhoods, parks and schoolyards. And it has contributed to the sense of renewal in communities including Brutontown and Freetown.
The organization prefers to plant 15-gallon-container trees in neighborhoods. It also has planted legacy trees, those that “by natural history can live at least 100 years and be around for generations to come,” Teachey explains. It has planted native as well as urban hardy species. TreesGreenville also offers tree care and maintenance help. The organization, which has a community forester, works with homeowners to select the right trees for the right spots on their private property. Asked about the biggest mistakes people make in tree planting, Teachey said they plant trees too deep and then mulch them improperly.
This time of year TreesGreenville is concentrating on wrapping up its planting season, which runs from October through March. “We’re planning and coordinating volunteers, making sure trees are ordered and delivered on time,” said Teachey. Volunteers provide the engine that keeps the organization running. “We have plantings where we plant 12 to 15 trees and may need 20 to 30 volunteers. We’ve had plantings in the Brutontown community where we’ve planted over a hundred trees in a day. We’ve had 75 volunteers help us plant those trees.”
In Brutontown, for example, the organization partnered with the Greenville County Redevelopment Authority and Greenville County Recreation District and has been part of the community’s revitalization efforts. “The Brutontown neighborhood wanted to participate, and TreesGreenville secures the funds through grants and donations,” Teachey said. “In affordable housing communities like Brutontown and Freetown, there’s no cost to the residents, and there’s no liability. Sometimes the trees die. If that happens, the resident isn’t held responsible for replacing it. They just agree to water it and mulch it and take care of it[…]I can report,” she adds, that in Brutontown, “where we’ve planted over 200 trees in the last two years, we haven’t lost a tree.” TreesGreenville plans to continue plantings in Brutontown and Freetown. The group hopes its next step with GCRA will be reaching out to other redevelopment communities, either already revitalized or in the process of revitalization.
“NeighborWoods is a very successful model, and we quickly caught on to NeighborWoods,” Teachey said. “The Alliance for Community Trees has over 120-member organizations around the country. We knew we wanted to say we’re part of a much larger national initiative.” These organizations have nurtured 7.8 million trees with the help of 450,000 volunteers, according to Teachey. As a non-profit, membership-based organization, TreesGreenville always is looking for members and funding. “We had our first Turkey Day 8K last November and raised $10,000,” Teachey said. TreesGreenville will have its annual ReLeaf Party, a membership drive, April 22. “It just happens to be Earth Day,” she added. The TreesGreenville Web site also has information on how to purchase memorials or honorariums using trees.
TreesGreenville’s efforts have been recognized with awards from the Home Depot Foundation and the state Department of Health and Environmental Control’s “Spare the Air” program. The organization’s partners range from Michelin to the Greenville Council of Garden Clubs. The council, in conjunction with its Arbor Day program, works with third-graders. “For any school that wants to participate in that free program, we’ll donate a legacy tree and provide technical support in how to plant it,” Teachey said.
There’s been a big response to TreesGreenville’s involvement with a program called NeighborWoods, a community tree-planting initiative that is growing in popularity nationwide under the umbrella of the Alliance for Community Trees. Sometimes non-profit groups like TreesGreenville decide to run NeighborWoods programs. Sometimes cities run them, as happened in Raleigh, N.C.
TreesGreenville’s impact just keeps growing