Asheville, NC (July 1, 2013) – After 37 years, Susan Roderick, executive director of local ACTrees member organization Asheville GreenWorks, will retire on July 1, 2013. She has been on the staff of GreenWorks, which began as Quality Forward, since 1976, and executive director since 1982.
With Susan at the helm, GreenWorks pushed for cleanup and beautification projects throughout Asheville, NC, and she’s been a singular catalyst to engage and connect people with trees. GreenWorks is also a long-time member of ACTrees, and it’s been a pleasure working with Susan and her team on many tree plantings over the years.
Here’s our short interview with Susan as she prepares to retire.
Why do you think trees are critical to communities?
SR: Trees are critical to healthy and sustainable communities. They clean the air, slow the water runoff, provide beauty and habitat, and I know that they are good for the economy. We can’t imagine our vital downtown without the green, shaded streets.
Note: Susan’s license plate (five cars later) still reads: “TREES.”
What have been some of the highlight projects during your tenure with GreenWorks?
SR: One of our first projects was at Deaverview Apartments, a public housing project. What’s really satisfying about that kind of project, which was part of an ACTrees grant, is we worked with the residents, especially kids, who have never had a chance to garden or plant. And they were able to come out and work with volunteers to plant trees. They can then look out their door and see that that tree is something they are a part of.
Another service project was a community garden. We used our People’s Garden Grant to develop a community garden also near a local housing project. We planted about 30 fruit trees facing toward the homes to really connect residents to the garden, which was once an old ball field.
Our work is sort of unique in that way. It’s never just about the trees. What’s been most important is that we’re engaging people. ACTrees grants have been really helpful with that sort of thing, and we have done many projects over the years I’ve been at GreenWorks.
How has your relationship with ACTrees been valuable over the years?
SR: My background is in journalism and public relations, so all the education that I’ve received and the way I’ve gained knowledge about trees is through ACTrees and other national meetings. The first one I went to was in 1980 in Cincinnati, and I’ve tried to go to most of them since then. When you attend these conferences, it really reinforces that you’re doing something important.
When you’re with others doing the same kind of work, it encourages you to follow best practices and learn from the best. Learning new techniques, getting new resources, and touring other local projects–it’s really invaluable to learn what others are doing. I’m looking forward to the next ACTrees meeting in Pittsburgh in November because I want to stay involved.
Plus, we just couldn’t do some of the tree plantings we’ve done without the support of ACTrees grants. We’re a small organization and we couldn’t do as many things here in Asheville without that help.
What’s your advice to other local, nonprofit tree-planting/greening organizations?
SR: We’ve kept it small and did things in really incremental steps, working with people at their pace. We didn’t force things on people. We made it fun for them. And we didn’t get in way over our heads financially. We try to say yes to everyone, but we take on an average of about five projects a year.
We also make it fun for people. And I think ACTrees knows how to do that. As an organization, it’s been a lot of fun to work with them. It’s also a serious group that understands that trees are actually a way to help solve some real problems, including those related to climate change. It’s a real positive.
SR: I’m going to travel more. Going to Australia in January, and a few other places I’ve never been like Italy and Ireland. But I’m also really happy that I can always still go out and plant with kids and keep some of the plantings we’ve done over the years maintained. I’ll stay involved in creating a lookout park above our downtown that is called White Fawn Overlook Park on Beaucatcher Mountain at an abandoned City reservoir. It’s seven acres with extensive views of the downtown, the Biltmore Estate, and the Western North Carolina mountains that I love.
Here are a few great local news pieces celebrating Susan and her accomplishments at GreenWorks: