2023 Tree Champions Stewardship of Nature and People
Trees Atlanta is honored to recognize the 2023 Tree Champions. These individuals and partners exemplify community stewardship and collaboration to protect and improve our urban canopy across metro Atlanta.
Individual: Diana Blank
Community: Central Atlanta Progress
Volunteer: Jean Millkey
Corporate: Delta Air Lines
Neighborhood: Peachtree Hills
The 2023 Tree Champions share our mission to serve others by creating more sustainable cities with healthy urban forests. In recent years, people have weathered a period of incredible local and global challenges and disruptions. The need and appreciation for nature and natural resources nearby was more apparent than ever. Our network of neighbors, community groups, partners, volunteers, staff, and supporters stayed committed to efforts that will have enduring impact on the wellbeing of us all.
Please read more about each of our 2023 Tree Champions below.
Last year, Trees Atlanta completed the construction of our new headquarters in Oakland City and planted 7,449 new trees in metro Atlanta with more than seven thousand volunteers. We launched the Conserve the 4-0-Forest project in 14 forest areas, expanded the Atlanta BeltLine Arboretum to the Southside Trail, taught thousands of students in 41 schools, launched career paths for 48 young people in our summer Youth Tree Team job training program, and so much more!
The passion of our community keeps us energized. Thank you to our Tree Champions for stepping forward and leading the way.
Join us at Root Ball 2023 to Congratulate the Trees Atlanta 2023 Tree Champions
The 2023 Tree Champions will be our honored guests at Root Ball to be hosted on Thursday, May 4, 2023 at the new Trees Atlanta Kendeda TreeHouse. This is a very special event location. We are proud to share with you the place where our work will continue and to grow. Come be with us and see the impact of your support and experience the spaces that our community are invited to enjoy and to use as a resource.
We welcome all to the Kendeda TreeHouse as we congratulate the Trees Atlanta 2023 Tree Champions.
Trees Atlanta 2023 Tree Champion – Individual
Trees Atlanta first came to know Diana Blank over twenty years ago starting with a sponsorship for flower baskets in downtown and a new park with abundant trees at Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park. Diana stayed connected to the work of Trees Atlanta, giving encouragement, supporting the mission of Trees Atlanta, and strengthening its capacity to reach more communities. When the organization outgrew the Kendeda Center in Reynoldstown, building a larger facility in southwest Atlanta gained the support of funders, beginning with Diana Blank. She believed that Trees Atlanta could “do more good in the environment by moving to Oakland City,” recalls Greg Levine, Co-Executive Director of Trees Atlanta. In addition to being able to bring all staff back into one location, the new facility would improve and reforest a formerly distressed industrial property close to many neighborhoods and families. In honor of Diana Blank’s belief in and support of environmental causes in Atlanta and beyond, the new headquarters is named the Trees Atlanta Kendeda TreeHouse.
Diana Blank has always been a believer in the transformative power of nature. It’s a value set, a lifestyle that is a part of all Diana does – including and how she moves through the world and the philanthropic choices she makes. “Diana is a truly remarkable individual. She’s kind, she’s caring, and she’s deeply invested in the programs, projects, but mostly the people that she supports and what they do,” said Bob Kerr, Co-Founder of South Fork Conservancy. Connie Veates, Co-Executive Director of Trees Atlanta, echoes the gratitude for Diana’s personal touch, “You’re always kind and make us all feel happy about what we do for the City of Atlanta.” Diana’s influence is seen in the greening of spaces throughout the Atlanta area. She is a long term supporter of many local organizations, including Trees Atlanta, Atlanta Botanical Gardens, South Fork Conservancy, Piedmont Park, Big Trees Forest, Atlanta BeltLine, and Georgia Tech where the Southeast’s greenest, living building was built. Atlanta Botanical Garden President and CEO, Mary Pat Matheson remarks, “She’s done so much for our city. She’s really amplified our interest and our commitment to the planet, stewardship of the Earth, and Mother Nature in such a remarkable way.”
“Throughout my life, whenever I have faced difficulty or needed to recharge or center myself, nature has always been the perfect way to find solace. It is unique in its power to heal, to soothe, to bring us closer to what matters in life.” – Diana Blank
Central Atlanta Progress
Trees Atlanta 2023 Tree Champion – Community
Central Atlanta Progress (CAP) has been a part of Trees Atlanta’s history since its earliest days, including helping to plant the first 46 trees in Downtown Atlanta in 1985. A.J. Robinson, CAP President, highlights the significance of the long lasting partnership, “So many people care about trees in Atlanta. At Central Atlanta Progress we’re particularly thankful and grateful for this recognition, because it recalls our history together, what we’re doing in the present, and hopefully what we can do in the future.”
In collaboration with CAP and the City of Atlanta, Trees Atlanta launched an ambitious plan to plant 8,000 trees in Downtown Atlanta with the goal of increasing Downtown canopy cover to 18% from its current level of 3%. In two years, 900 new trees have been planted in Downtown and funding is being pursued to achieve the 8,000 tree goal. CAP prioritized increasing tree canopy for Downtown and made it a focus area in their Downtown master plan. A.J. Robinson explains, “The tree canopy really is one of those memorable parts of Atlanta. Sometimes we take it for granted here, those of us who live in the city. But for folks who come from outside of Atlanta, it really is a distinguishing factor.”
For more than a decade, Trees Atlanta has been working with Atlanta Downtown Improvement District (ADID), a CAP partnership, to care for and maintain some of downtown’s trees. CAP has invested in community tree plantings in Downtown neighborhoods, like Centennial Hill and Sweet Auburn, as well as in Downtown pocket parks. In Walton Spring Park colorful magnolias grow under Atlanta’s skyscrapers and beside a statue of former Mayor Andrew Young. Down the street, some of Trees Atlanta’s first Downtown trees line Carnegie Way. In A.J.’s point of view, “Planting more trees together just makes Atlanta a better place.”
Trees Atlanta 2023 Tree Champion – Volunteer
Jean Millkey gives her time generously to Trees Atlanta, as well as to several other community service organizations. She is an advocate for community service and shares what she learns or does with others and pollinates good work all around. “It’s the people, the staff and the people I volunteer with, that really make this a special organization that keeps me coming back again and again. I am very inspired at not only what Trees Atlanta has accomplished in the planting of trees,” she explained, “but what Trees Atlanta has accomplished in inspiring people to be aware of their environment and become active.” At Trees Atlanta, Jean has built personal relationships with other volunteers and staff through her consistency, collaboration, and encouraging words. Jean takes the initiative to ask how she can help and regularly steps in to complete the necessary tasks that need attention.
A volunteer since 2013, Jean long ago earned her Green Shirt, completed her TreeKeeper training in 2020, and frequently assists with data collection for tree inventories. Jean took over the daunting task of culling through decades worth of photographs, organizing and scanning our image history for preservation. The latest outlet for her energy is forest restoration, or what she calls “rewilding” by removing invasive plants so that native species can return. With our Weeds & Wine restoration projects on the Atlanta BeltLine, Jean inspired another volunteer to earn his Green Shirt, her husband Bill. Together, they both volunteer and are regular attendees at education and community events. A lifelong learner, Jean takes what she learns from her time volunteering with Trees Atlanta and puts it into practice in her own yard. Jean and Bill helped pilot Trees Atlanta’s new City Forest Certification program which launches this spring.
Delta Air Lines
Trees Atlanta 2023 Tree Champion – Corporate
Their planes fly globally, but Delta Air Lines is rooted in Atlanta. As one of the largest employers headquartered in our city, their employees are our neighbors in communities across Metro Atlanta. Delta is this year’s Corporate Tree Champion for their commitment to investing in Atlanta’s urban forest and supporting employee volunteerism. Amelia DeLuca, Vice President of International Customer Experience and Partner Sustainability, says of Delta employees, “There’s a huge desire to be able to give back to our local communities, to feel like we’re making a difference from an environmental perspective.”
In 2022, Delta employees came together to serve 1,100 volunteer hours at six local projects with our NeighborWoods and Forest Restoration programs, with more projects already completed or scheduled for 2023. “Trees Atlanta is a perfect partner for us because it addresses our ability to make our communities more environmentally friendly, but there’s also a social impact in what Trees Atlanta is doing. There’s such energy behind any voluntary activity, but the fact that our employees can see their impact, not just in the moment when they’re planting that tree, but in years to come. That’s what’s garnering such interest from our employee base.”
Delta also funded 300 trees to be planted and helped to grow Trees Atlanta’s teen job training and employment program, Youth Tree Team, to 48 students in 2022. Amelia serves on Trees Atlanta’s Board of Directors and regularly brings her own young daughters to volunteer projects. Delta employees and families are making connections to nature and to trees from the air and on the ground. “I’m really proud of the work we’ve done in the last 2 years. I’m eager to be a partner of Trees Atlanta for years to come.”
Trees Atlanta 2023 Tree Champion – Neighborhood
Resident Kristen Pethick knew right away she wanted to live in Peachtree Hills. She beams, “It’s so beautiful, it’s historic, it has such lovely large established trees and a really good community feel.” However, according to Kristen, the trees are increasingly under threat, “We’ve had a lot of impact from development and a lot of our old growth trees are starting to fall.” Kristen, Laura Dobson, and other residents of Peachtree Hills knew something needed to be done and organized around the growing concern for tree loss in their neighborhood.
The neighbors took action in important ways. They worked to reduce the mass removal of trees on large construction projects by negotiating and filing formal appeals of the tree protection ordinance. Although appeals did not stop the removal of trees on the projects, the hard work and persistence of Peachtree Hill residents influenced the developers to plant more trees in the final landscapes. The process elevated awareness among the neighbors the limits of the ordinance and various challenges standing in the way of tree protection. To counteract the loss of trees, concerned residents, like Betty Hanacek, John Matthews, and Ralph Herrera worked with Trees Atlanta to organize three community tree planting projects in Peachtree Hills. Betty reports, “It’s really changed things and gotten the neighbors aware of the benefits of trees, and also brought neighbors out to help plant the trees.” The neighborhood has worked together to plant 200 new trees in Peachtree Hills this year, hosted a Plantlanta 2022 tree planting project, and actively recruited residents to use their yards for the Trees Atlanta Front Yard Program. Peachtree Hills already has plans for the next tree planting season.
Videos included in this article were filmed and produced courtesy of Chris Hrubesh, Silent H Productions. Chris is a Green Shirt volunteer and long time supporter of Trees Atlanta.