Forty years ago, a group of teens got together to plant trees in San Bernardino when they learned that forests were being damaged by smog. In the process, they started the nonprofit TreePeople.
Today, youth are still leading the way by volunteering to plant seedlings in the fire-damaged Angeles National Forest through the TreebyTree program funded by TreePeople and Edison International.
“I planted seven trees. I thought that this field trip was one of the best I’ve ever been on,” said Thomas, 12, a seventh-grader and one of 58 students from San Gabriel Christian School attending the recent field trip. The school is one of 10 Los Angeles area middle and high schools that won the five-week social media campaign.
In total, 18 schools took part in the campaign that had students submitting photos of their school’s environmental activities each week on Facebook. The most votes determined the top-10 winning schools that will take turns heading to the Angeles National Forest to plant trees this year.
“I learned that trees are important for our environment and that we shouldn’t take trees for granted,” said Victoria, 12, one of Thomas’ classmates. “Also, when we plant trees, those trees can give us many things like oxygen, paper and shade.”
The middle-school kids helped plant dozens of Jeffrey and Coulter pine seedlings during their trip to the Angeles National Forest, which was devastated by the 2009 Station Fire. Funded by TreePeople and Edison International, the students learned how to properly plant seedlings and how to best care for them.
“With less than two hours of actual planting time, a limited number of trees were planted,” said Clarence Atwater, a teacher at San Gabriel Christian School, who accompanied his students on the field trip. “Still, if most of the seedlings survive, we have made a difference for years to come. Not to mention, the memories planted in the minds of my students and their sense of accomplishment.”
In conjunction with the social media campaign, customers in Southern California Edison (SCE)’s service area were encouraged to sign up for paperless billing. SCE estimates that if all of its customers switched to paperless billing, 47,000 trees would be saved each year. By the end of the campaign, nearly 1,500 customers had signed up for the paperless option.
“This campaign is about giving students the tools necessary to become environmental change agents,” said Tammy Tumbling, SCE director of Philanthropy and Community Involvement. “Environmental stewardship is important to us. For that reason, Edison International supports innovative partnerships — such as that with TreePeople — that help improve the environment while also engaging local youth.”
All of Edison International’s support of charitable causes is funded by shareholders, and SCE customers do not pay for donations in their bills. Since 2009, Edison International has given nearly $8.7 million to programs that promote environmental responsibility.
The TreebyTree campaign is part of TreePeople’s Urban Forestry Initiative, a multi-year effort to help restore the Angeles National Forest which was ravaged by the 2009 Station Fire, one of the largest in Los Angeles County history. In total, more than 160,000 acres of forest were burned. Through Edison International’s support of the Urban Forestry Initiative, more than 20,000 trees will be donated this year alone.
“Over the years, through TreePeople, hundreds of thousands of students have planted hundreds of thousands of trees in the local mountains and in the city,” said Julie Prejean, TreePeople’s director of forestry. “So the TreebyTree project is very much in line with what TreePeople has been doing from the beginning — empowering teens to take it into their own hands to fix environmental damage and plant for a better future.”
What happens in the Angeles National Forest directly affects everyone in Los Angeles County. More than a third of the county’s drinking water comes from the forest. Also, the forest encompasses 72 percent of the county’s open space and hosts four million visitors annually.
Working in nature and helping the environment has powerfully impacted the young people who have worked with TreePeople, said Prejean.
“We’ve seen over and over again that young people can have profound experiences when they participate in restoring nature,” she said. “We have teens who come back year after year.”
Both Thomas and Victoria say they plan to return and will continue to help restore damaged forests.
“Yes, because now I know that helping the environment will give us a lot of things,” said Victoria. “Also planting trees really makes me think about recycling and keeping our world clean.”
The winning schools of the TreebyTree program include: Norwalk High School, Franklin Classical Middle School, Hughes Middle School, Hawthorne Middle School, San Gabriel Christian School, Eleanor Roosevelt High School, Bell Gardens High School, Santa Monica High School, Jefferson Leadership Academies and John F. Kennedy Middle College High School.
For more information: www.treepeople.org.