Youth Tree Care Program

(San Francisco, CA)- Friends of the Urban Forest (FUF), in conjunction with three other local nonprofits, operates a youth program that takes care of 1,500 trees and assists in the planting of 200 trees each year. Youth employees, aged 14-17, earn a living wage and develop marketable job skills while improving San Francisco’s urban environment.

Category: Training; Career Paths for At-Risk Youth

Initially started as a summer program in 1995, the Youth Tree Care Program now has three sessions: summer, spring and fall. More than 275 youths have completed the program, which has cared for 7,400 trees.
Founded in 1981, Friends of the Urban Forest provides financial, technical and practical assistance to individuals and neighborhood groups in San Francisco who want to plant and care for trees. As part of its community volunteer tree-planting program which annually plants more than 1,200 trees, FUF guarantees to make three follow-up visits for tree care. The visits are at two months, 18 months and 36 months after planting.
In 1995, FUF decided to develop a youth program that would assist in maintaining the trees FUF is contractually obligated to care for under its grant from the city of San Francisco. This endeavor corresponded with FUF’s desire to provide paying jobs that would teach youths from underserved neighborhoods not only environmental expertise in tree care and planting but also general employability skills.
In the beginning, the youth program operated only in the summer. It now has three sessions: summer, fall and spring.
The Youth Tree Program is a partnership between FUF and the Boys and Girls Club of San Francisco, Jewish Vocational Services and Hunters Point Family, a local youth program. Program funding comes from a variety of sources including individuals, foundations and events as well as from city, state and federal funds.
Recruiting the crew
Crew members are chosen from applicants recruited by FUF’s three partner organizations – The Boys and Girls Club of San Francisco, Jewish Vocational Services and Hunters Point Family. Each organization is allotted a certain number of slots in every training session. The program is open to youths 14 to 17.
Partner groups advertise the program within their organizations. Applications are then sent to FUF which does the final interviewing and selection. All applicants are guaranteed an interview.
When making the final selection, FUF is not looking for the “perfect youth.” The program is designed for youths who are still learning about the work world and who are at a disadvantage to acquire these skills due to socio-economic or other factors.
Each crew has 12 people – nine crew members, two assistant crew leaders and a crew leader. Although it is possible to be hired more than once for the program, that is not typical except when being promoted from crew member to assistant crew leader or crew leader.
In addition to recruitment assistance, partner organizations provide meeting space, storage areas for tools, food and other support for the program.
Training and compensation
FUF does all the training for the program which includes information on safety in the work field, use of tools, the art of tree pruning, tree planting and employability skills.
The summer session is six weeks. It operates five days a week for 35 hours a week. Typically, the beginning of the session is devoted to classroom training and the later part to hands-on experience.
The spring and fall sessions are each 12 weeks. Each week includes nine hours of training. As a rule, this includes a two-hour training session on Thursday night followed by a seven-hour work session in the field on Saturday.
In addition to the formal work program, FUF has found numerous ways to expand the horizons of crew members by taking them on field trips to environmental festivals and resources in the Bay area. During the summer session, FUF takes the crew on a camping trip.
Crew members receive an education and training stipend rather than an hourly wage.
At its current capacity, the Youth Tree Care Program annually cares for 1,500 trees and assists with planting 200 trees. Thirty-six youth receive training each year in skills related to tree care and planting as well as general employment skills such as the importance of being on time, calling when late and working as part of a team.
Since the program’s inception, more than 275 youth have completed the program, caring for 7,400 trees and planting 1,392 trees.
FUF recently received a grant from the National Urban and Community Forestry Advisory Council to develop, publish and distribute a guide on how to start and operate an urban forestry youth program. The guide will be published in 2008.
1. Be sensitive to the needs of the age group with which you are working. At this age (14-17), youth should be respected as adults but they will not always act like adults. Be aware that they will have adolescent life crises that require your support. They need a significant amount of feedback and information on your expectations and the reasons for those expectations.
2. It is important to realize that gangs can play an important force in certain demographic groups and in certain parts of your service area. Take this into account when hiring youth and assigning them to work areas. Ask potential crew members during the hiring process if there are certain parts of the city in which they are not comfortable working.
3. Know the federal, state and city laws governing youth programs before beginning operations. Will you pay wages or a stipend? What are the tax implications of each? How much is worker’s compensation insurance? Do you need special releases to use photos of the crew in your publications due to their age? Be very diligent in these matters upfront. Often there is a board member with legal expertise who can help you with these issues.
4. Do not underestimate the amount of work your crew can do. There is nothing worse than a bored group of youth. It is better to have too much work and have a contingency plan in place for completing that work than to have two extra hours at the end of the day with nothing to do.
5. Give positive feedback. Do not be afraid of developing personal as well as professional relationships with your crew members.
6. Look for ways to expand the experiences of your crew members beyond the work program. FUF takes crew members on field trips that expose them to other environmental resources and youth groups in the Bay area.
7. Pay attention to the needs of your partner organizations. Keep them involved in every part of the process – marketing, recruiting, hiring, work projects and follow-up.
Contact Information:
Nancy Strahan, Education Coordinator
Friends of the Urban Forest
Presidio of San Francisco Building 1007
P.O. Box 29456
San Francisco, CA 94129-1404
Phone: (415) 561-6890, x108
Fax: (415) 561-6899
(c) 2007 Alliance for Community Trees