News

2024 Tree Champions Hero to Trees

(L-R above) Individual: Connie Veates | Community: City of Decatur | Volunteer: Jeff Keesee | Corporate: West Rock | Neighborhood: Adair Park

 

Trees Atlanta has a tremendous community of supporters for whom we are very grateful. Each year, we highlight the Tree Champions who consistently heed our calls for help, work in and with their community, and lend their special powers to ensure that more trees are protected and grow across Metro Atlanta.

In real life, and not merely in comic books, superheroes turn out to be every day folk who channel their energy for good. The Power of Trees are amplified when combined with the power of people, and we all accomplish more when we join forces.

Trees seem to possess superpowers. Trees come to the rescue cooling down rising heat island temperatures, slow falling storm water and pull water into the ground reducing runoff and floods, transform seasonally to feed and house wildlife, and literally make the air we breathe! Kapow! Zap! Wow!

Trees are pretty incredible and so are the people who help to keep their powers protecting us all. Trees Atlanta is honored to recognize the 2024 Tree Champions.  

Individual: Connie Veates

Community: City of Decatur

Volunteer: Jeff Keesee

Corporate: West Rock

Neighborhood: Adair Park

 

Please read more about each of our 2024 Tree Champions below.

banner call to action to purchase ticket to Root Ball

Congratulate the Trees Atlanta 2024 Tree Champions at Root Ball

Join us at our annual fundraiser and support another successful year of planting, conserving, and educating in Metro Atlanta.

 

The support of organizations and individuals (like you!) made it possible for Trees Atlanta to organize 10,000 volunteers, plant over 9,000 trees, work in 1,000 acres of forest spaces, and educate 25,000 individuals last year! Be a hero to trees and attend Root Ball 2024: Thursday, May 2, 2024 at Guardian Works.  Purchase tickets or donate

 

Individual: Connie Veates

 

Some pretty special people have forged pathways in Trees Atlanta history. Connie Veates, Trees Atlanta 2024 Individual Tree Champion, is one of those people. Connie was Trees Atlanta’s Co-Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer for 12 years (2011-2023), and for ten years prior (2001-2011), she served on Trees Atlanta’s Board of Directors, including five years as President. She served in a leadership role at Trees Atlanta for more than half of its 39 years in operation! Thinking back on this era of her career, Connie said, “It has been so rewarding to work with some of the most passionate, smartest, and committed people I’ve ever met both on the board and on the staff.” Connie’s own fire and talent planted and nurtured many seeds of growth at Trees Atlanta. Connie’s skills in finance, strategic planning, fundraising, and operations influenced a period of incredible growth and achievements for Trees Atlanta. The successful completion of our most ambitious Capital Campaign was a history-making milestone that capped her long list of achievements at Trees Atlanta. This allowed Trees Atlanta to build and thrive in its larger headquarters, the Trees Atlanta Kendeda TreeHouse in southwest Atlanta. 

“Connie was a crucial partner in getting Trees Atlanta where it is today,” praised Greg Levine, Executive Director. Their innovative dual leadership structure was Connie’s suggestion when sharing the top leadership position was rare. Reflecting on her tenure, Connie said, “I am most proud of proving that collaborative leadership can lead to significant, sustainable growth.” The blend of their strengths made possible the creation of some of Trees Atlanta’s most iconic programs, including: Junior TreeKeeper summer camp; Root Ball, our largest annual fundraiser; Youth Tree Team, a successful teen job training program; and expansion to 13 municipalities across Metro Atlanta. Her leadership significantly grew development among individual, corporate, and foundation giving. Connie also believed in paying it forward and invested time to develop upcoming leaders and mentor professionals in nonprofit and private sectors. Greg said of his peer and friend, “As she promised when she left Trees Atlanta a year ago, she continues to be just a phone call away to provide advice and be a friend to me, as well as the organization.” Connie’s story continues: as a consultant, Connie remains committed to helping nonprofits focus on growth so that they can increase their capacity to help others.

 

 

Community: City of Decatur


The City of Decatur is one of our most consistent community partners and the Trees Atlanta 2024 Community Tree Champion. The city has a long history of collaboration with Trees Atlanta, including organizing one of our first significant community tree planting projects in 1996. Church Street was widened resulting in the removal of a significant number of street trees. Decatur resident Winnie Worrall asked for help to repair the loss. With community volunteers and the support of the city, 50 trees were planted on Church Street. Those trees are now over 50 feet tall. Soon after, in 1999, we embarked on our earliest greenspace forest restoration work in the Oakhurst neighborhood. This was followed by a community collaboration to develop and create our Neighborhood Arboretum network, including one in Oakhurst. This work helped to guide our eventual advocacy and involvement to create the Atlanta BeltLine Arboretum. Together, the city and Trees Atlanta have planted over 3,000 trees in Decatur and expect to plant many more.

Mayor Patti Garrett, along with Decatur’s city and community leaders, have leveraged nearly all of the resources and programs offered by Trees Atlanta to support urban trees through planting, tree care, and greenspace restoration. Decatur’s leadership resulted in a successful update to the city’s Tree Protection Ordinance in 2022, establishing an ambitious community tree canopy coverage goal of 65%. Another shining example of Decatur’s investment in trees is at Legacy Park where Trees Atlanta has been working on a multi-year project to restore the ecological health and quality of the park’s greenspace. Over 9,000 volunteer and staff hours have been logged in Forest Restoration efforts, including monthly volunteer projects. Through the Yard Tree Program, Decatur residents are able to request free trees planted in their front yards so that others can also enjoy more shade and beauty in public places. To celebrate the City of Decatur’s 200-year anniversary in 2023, city leadership, including Kay Evanovich, Hugh Saxon, and Lyn Menne, set a goal with Trees Atlanta to plant 200 trees. We’ve exceeded this planting goal by a wide margin: since the goal was set, our NeighborWoods community planting team has planted 331 trees in Decatur, including nearly 100 yard trees. Decatur is also one of the founding Metro Partners of the One Million Tree Initiative and is consistently ranked as a leader based on the number of trees planted and conserved per resident or land area. The city follows through on its decades-long commitment to providing the benefits of trees to all.

What began as a community tree planting effort has grown into a partnership that continues to add trees to our public landscape and to our yards, neighborhoods and parks, enhancing beauty, personal and public health, and climate resilience. I am extremely proud of this decades-long partnership with Trees Atlanta and look forward to the ongoing work together now and in the future.” – Mayor Patti Garrett

 

 

Volunteer: Jeff Keesee

 

“When people at work see me, they think of tree planting.” Jeff Keesee is delighted that his coworkers at Home Depot closely connect him to Trees Atlanta. Volunteering for Trees Atlanta is part of who Jeff is: every volunteer project is a rewarding opportunity to plant trees, meet an interesting mix of people, and get the word out about the benefits of trees. This year marks Jeff’s 30th year volunteering for Trees Atlanta: that’s a lot of trees and people! As the longest continuously-serving volunteer in Trees Atlanta history, we are very pleased to celebrate Jeff Keesee as Trees Atlanta 2024 Volunteer Tree Champion. He remembers when volunteers had to telephone the office to sign up for a project. Before each project, they met at the Poplar Street office to help load a truck with trees and equipment, planted, and returned together to the office to help unload. When Jeff first came to volunteer with Trees Atlanta in 1994, there were only four employees and one or two projects per week. As Trees Atlanta grew over the years, Jeff expanded his repertoire of volunteerism, too. He learned how to prune trees and became a tree tour Docent. A skilled photographer, Jeff also helps to document our work and has created a longitudinal photographic record of the early arboretum meadows maturing through seasons, as well as, taking photos at events or projects.

Since 2019, Jeff has been hosting tours on the Atlanta BeltLine Arboretum. Every second Saturday of the month, he says he takes a group on “a lovely walk with stories.” Jeff’s other hobby of improv comedy has honed a practice of “Yes, And” that shows up when he volunteers. When leading tree tours, he finesses his talking points based on the responses and interests of the group. He provides additional information on his tour blog Neighbor Jeff, including a tree of the week and a “stump” of the week with answers to questions he couldn’t answer on the tour. Rebecca Gilbert, Director of Education, remarked, “I often wonder if there is anything Jeff couldn’t do at Trees Atlanta.” With a generous “Yes, And” attitude, Jeff can be counted on to craft special tours or substitute for another docent. To date, he estimates he’s led nearly 50 tours of various topics. Jeff kindly shares tips and thoughtful insights with other docents as they begin their training program or are polishing their tours, adds fun ideas for our yearly Inman Park Festival parade of volunteers, and recently baked the winning entry at the Green Shirt cookie contest. “Jeff’s playful ideas and his ability for creating fun while working towards our mission have shaped Trees Atlanta’s volunteer culture,” says Susan Pierce Cunningham, Associate Director of Volunteer Services. Wherever he is, he shows up with a bright smile that means: “Yes, And”. Merci beaucoup, Jeff!

 

 

Corporate: WestRock

 

WestRock, a global leader in sustainable paper and packaging solutions, is Trees Atlanta 2024 Corporate Tree Champion. Wherever they operate, they are focused on Unboxing Good in the local community. Headquartered in Atlanta, WestRock and volunteers from their employee base began collaborating with Trees Atlanta in 2017; the first project was a NeighborWoods community tree planting. They continued to volunteer each year and funded more tree planting and forest restoration projects across Metro Atlanta. In 2020, when the pandemic suddenly upturned life, the critical work of planting and caring for our urban trees remained while the number of volunteers and how we worked were negatively affected. During this difficult time, WestRock provided additional funding that enabled us to acquire new equipment to enhance staff productivity and meet our commitments in the community.

Over the years, WestRock volunteers have removed invasive species and planted trees in Morningside Nature Preserve, Vine City, Berkeley Park, Nancy Creek Trail, Hammond Park, and more. WestRock is also an annual sponsor of the Flowering Forest, a tree tribute to John Lewis and a favorite volunteer event for their team members. WestRock is also a proud supporter of the Youth Tree Team (YTT), a successful and growing teen job training program at Trees Atlanta, and excited to host a sustainable industry field trip to their operating facilities this summer and participate in the career fair, inspiring the next generation of sustainability leaders. “Trees Atlanta is a favorite volunteer activity for our teammates,” says Mandy Burnette, Director, Corporate Giving. “They show up with lots of energy and enthusiasm and the teamwork is outstanding – just ask them about the mulch train!”

WestRock is committed to community partnerships. As the sustainability partner of the Atlanta Hawks, WestRock and the Hawks wanted to use the partnership to make an impact in the community. Through Rock the Rim, every dunk a Hawks player makes this season results in a tree planted in Metro Atlanta. “Trees Atlanta is a fantastic strategic partner for WestRock and we’re honored to continue working together to ensure Atlanta’s tree canopy thrives, providing health and environmental benefits for generations to come.”

 

 

Neighborhood: Adair Park

 

Three decades ago, when Trees Atlanta volunteers and staff first planted dogwood and oak trees on Brookline Street with neighbors, did we also plant an idea that one day we’d become neighbors? Today, standing on the grounds of our headquarters, we see the trees, houses, and neighbors of Adair Park. We feel at home here, and are happy to name Adair Park the Trees Atlanta 2024 Neighborhood Tree Champion. Through the decades, Adair Park volunteers added trees to every park in the neighborhood and lined the streets with blooming redbuds and cherry trees. In the 2000s, Adair Park neighbors helped clear the overgrown railway covered in kudzu and trash. Early boosters worked hard to ensure that the proposed rails to trails project would reach the Westside and feature a linear arboretum sparking more investment in green infrastructure for the area. Adair Park parents are taking advantage of our location and are sending their kids to Trees Atlanta Junior TreeKeeper camp, attending Speaker Series talks, and introducing local businesses and groups to Trees Atlanta resources.

Adair Park is mindful of the changing needs of the neighborhood. Neighbors are attentive to the maintenance needs of their existing trees. Volunteers are taking tree pruning classes, joining tree care projects, and raising people’s awareness of the damage caused by English ivy. With flyers and conversations with neighbors, they are working to educate and encourage people to protect trees and native ecosystems. Feedback from Adair Park helps us to design educational programs that better meet the needs of all west and southwest Atlanta neighborhoods. They removed invasive plant species in places like Bonnie Brae Park, businesses supported concrete cutting along Murphy Avenue and Allene Avenue to create new places to plant trees, and new trees and plants were installed for the dedication of a renamed greenspace now called Muscogee Park at Brookline Triangle. Adair Park and the City of Atlanta are located on the ancestral homelands of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. 

To date, we have planted 1,374 trees in Adair Park. Along the Atlanta BeltLine adjacent to Adair Park, many of the trees planted are edible species, like persimmon and blueberries. Near the Murphy Crossing bridge, Trees Atlanta commissioned and installed a stunning public artwork, titled The ConNectar, to bring attention to the role of pollinators and how they benefit flora, fauna, and humans in urban ecosystems. Michael Handelman, President of the neighborhood association Adair Park Today, sees the impact Trees Atlanta has in the community, “Trees Atlanta is integrated in so many ways in the lives and businesses of Adair Park. Y’all are everywhere: BeltLine, streets, schools, and parks.” We’re glad to be here!

 

Sign up for our monthly email newsletter to keep up with Trees Atlanta news and updates, along with upcoming volunteer, education, and community events.