by Katie Mills Giorgio
Sustaining and enhancing the environment for generations to come is at the heart of what Trees Forever works to do. It is only fitting then that programming involves the next generation of community members.
While young people have been involved as volunteers with Trees Forever since the organization started, a new initiative called Trees Forever GreenForce was launched in 2010 to help reach out to youth on a wider scale and better engage them in our work. “GreenForce is our current effort to make sure young people know about Trees Forever and feel welcome to participate,” says Karen Brook, GreenForce Program Manager.
GreenForce specifically targets volunteers ages 12 to 25 and uses a variety of approaches to reach out to them. Staff members are connecting with environmental clubs, FFA groups, and high school classes to provide resources and support the projects they have already developed. We’ve partnered with ten affiliated groups in Iowa to help strengthen their youth volunteer efforts for projects this spring. And we’re utilizing social media and events planned by young people as ways for young volunteers to connect with each other.
Cody Martin, a 15-year-old Linn-Mar High School student in photo at left, found out about GreenForce through an agriculture class at school and initially volunteered for a tree planting. “It just sounded like something fun to do on the weekend. And you got a free lunch,” he says. Now a regular Trees Forever volunteer—who has planted trees, sodded Habitat for Humanity yards, and actually done the planning for a tree planting project in Marion—Martin says he’s grown to realize it is much more than that. “It’s just a good experience—it helps you for future encounters in life and builds character. I plan to volunteer pretty much as long as I can,” he says.
In previous years, Trees Forever focused on young people through the Growing Futures program, which worked intensively with ten to twenty disadvantaged young people each year. “While the program had a wonderful impact on those who participated, Trees Forever decided in 2009 that it could have an even greater impact if we worked to involve young volunteers in all of the work we do,” notes Brook.
Now, Martin and other young volunteers like him are getting hands-on experience in making a community impact and protecting the environment. “A lot of the learning they do in school is very theoretical,” says Brook. “Trees Forever helps young volunteers gain the resources and know-how they need to do an actual project that makes a difference.”
By getting more young people more actively involved, Trees Forever hopes to help develop the next generation of environmental leaders. “We need young volunteers to bring their fresh ideas and energy now, to ensure that environmental work continues in the future,” says Brook. “I believe the emphasis on involving young people in all the work we do will remain central. There will be no ‘forever’ in Trees Forever if we don’t keep young people involved!”
“As the future of our community, the young people involved in Lisbon’s Community Visioning have been invaluable. They bring a unique perspective to the process and help identify future enhancements and projects. We are excited to have young people in Lisbon today that will help to ensure progress and stewardship for years to come.”
Katie Mills Giorgio is a freelance writer living, writing and raising a family in Cedar Rapids. When she's not sitting at her computer she's exploring all the city parks with her kids. And she wishes mature trees would magically appear in her yard. You can read more about her writing life at katiemillsgiorgio.wordpress.com.
Young volunteers help plant trees at a Habitat for Humanity tree planting event in Cedar Rapids.
Things that older generations can do to make participating in a volunteer project a positive experience for youth
“Engage in conversation, enjoy what they're doing, appreciate the interest of the younger generation”
“Thoroughly explain the project and its goals, treat younger generations with as much respect as their own”
“Be a strong leader providing useful direction so that volunteer time is efficiently used.”
~ quotes from the Youth Survey, 2010