Neighborhood Trees Program

(Portland, OR)- Friends of Trees operates an extensive volunteer network that mobilizes approximately 2,000 people annually to plant and care for nearly 20,000 trees and shrubs in the Portland-Vancouver area. One such opportunity is the Neighborhood Trees Program.

Category: Volunteers, Community Building
Developed over the last 15 years, this effort offers volunteer opportunities at numerous skill- and time-commitment levels. Examples of volunteer jobs include neighborhood coordinator, tree-planting laborer, crew leader, maintenance worker, truck driver, office assistant, fundraiser, special events worker and intern.
Volunteers have always been a central part of Friends of Trees. Established in 1989, the mission of Friends of Trees is to “inspire community stewardship of our urban forest by bringing people in the Portland-Vancouver area together to plant, care for, and learn about city trees.”
All of its major activities depend on volunteers. In 1996, Friends of Trees initiated a five-year Seed the Future Campaign “to bring volunteers together to plant 144,000 trees and seedlings in neighborhoods, natural areas, and on school grounds throughout Portland’s five-county region.” The campaign was successful in attracting 19,000 volunteers to plant 157,046 trees in 52 neighborhoods, 59 natural areas and on 62 school grounds.
Neighborhood Trees program
Each year Friends of Trees selects approximately 35 neighborhoods to participate in its Neighborhood Trees program. Low-income areas and areas with diminished tree canopies are given preference. The actual number of neighborhoods selected each year depends on how many sponsors Friends of Trees is able to attract.
Once neighborhoods are chosen, Friends of Trees meets with neighborhood associations and community groups within the target areas and recruits a neighborhood coordinator. After the neighborhood coordinators are identified, Friends of Trees offers a three-part training session to introduce the coordinators to the program and their responsibilities. This training is considered to be critical. It includes information on how the process works, how to recruit additional neighborhood volunteers and sponsors, how to identify the homes that need trees and how to select, plant and water the appropriate trees.
Neighborhood coordinators are responsible for finding crew leaders to assist them in guiding volunteers on planting day. Crew leaders usually attend the last two training sessions.
Typically 100 to 200 volunteers participate on planting day, and between 100 and 200 trees are planted.
In addition, Friends of Trees recruits summer tree care volunteers who care for the newly-planted trees over the critical summer months.
Natural area restoration
Friends of Trees also partners with public agencies, other nonprofits and community groups to organize natural area enhancements and restoration projects. Friends of Trees helps arrange follow-up maintenance for these projects, again using volunteers.
During the 2003-04 planting season, Friends of Trees’ volunteers planted 2,124 street and yard trees and 17,023 native trees and shrubs in urban natural areas.
1. Make the activity fun. Friends of Trees offers food and beverages at all its plantings and, often, music. Plantings are used as opportunities for neighbors to network and enjoy each other.
2. Make your volunteers feel important, appreciated and informed. Once you recruit volunteers, you want them to keep coming back. Friends of Trees makes a concerted effort to honor its volunteers with annual volunteer appreciation festivals, written and verbal expressions of thanks and consistent updates on Friends of Trees activities. Updates take a variety of forms including Tree Mail (a monthly e-mail on training opportunities, volunteer needs, and other activities), a quarterly online newsletter and a mailed biannual newsletter. In addition, volunteers are encouraged to join Friends of Trees as members.
3. Remember that your board members are also volunteers and honor them accordingly.
4. Emphasize the tangible results of volunteers’ work. Once a person plants a tree, he or she is associated with that tree for as long as it lives. Help them feel that connection.
5. Let volunteers know about ALL the benefits of the work they have done. Publicize and explain the residual benefits of the work you do. For example, not only do trees provide beauty and shade, they also help control storm-water runoff, reduce air pollution and help curtail global warming. Encourage your volunteers see how their efforts are improving the community over time.
6. Expand the use of volunteers beyond “a way to get a job done” to “a way to build the community.” Promote networking.
7. Have clear parameters of what you are asking of volunteers and make sure they understand what those parameters are. Volunteers need to know clearly what they are signing up to do and if they have the needed skills. Spend the time at the beginning to make sure there are no misunderstandings as you go through the process. For example, do not have a volunteer fix your truck until you know that he or she actually has the appropriate expertise. Make sure neighborhood coordinators know the breadth of their responsibilities and how to undertake them. At the same time, let people know the limits of their responsibilities. Volunteers are not the spokesperson for the organization or the local government.
8. Give opportunities for different levels of volunteering and try to ensure that people can truly commit to the level they choose. Some people can commit to only one day of service; others are able to commit to several months. See Friends of Trees’ web-site ( for its listing of volunteer opportunities and volunteer sign-up form.
9. Make your program consistent, clear and well organized. Volunteers’ time is valuable. Do not waste it.
Contact Information:
Scott Fogarty, Executive Director
Friends of Trees
3117 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd
Portland, OR 97212
Phone: (503) 282-8846, ext. 14
Fax: (503) 282-9471
(c) 2005 Alliance for Community Trees