National Volunteer Appreciation Week 2021
Illustration and article by Iris Chen, Trees Atlanta Intern
It’s National Volunteer Appreciation Week, and we want to give a huge thank you to our amazing volunteers. You — our volunteers — are what make Trees Atlanta what it is.
To highlight the diverse work that our volunteers do, I interviewed some of our Certified Volunteers in the Docent, TreeKeeper, and Forest Stewardship programs to get a bit more insight into their experiences in the programs. Trees Atlanta’s Certified Volunteers complete classroom training and meet a required number of volunteer hours in volunteer leadership roles.
Our Docent Training program coaches volunteers on how to engagingly lead walking tours in neighborhoods, parks, and the Atlanta Beltline Arboretum, a dynamic natural space maintained by Trees Atlanta. The Docent Training course involves learning about Trees Atlanta and its mission, the history of the BeltLine and the surrounding neighborhoods, as well as the trees, grasses, and plants in the Arboretum. After receiving the basic training, docents are able to handcraft their tours to fit their interests and what they want to teach to others.
Photos below (L – R): Jeff Keesee leading a tour on the Eastside Trail; the art found along the Arboretum spaces also delights our tour guest – here Kathy Brennan (far left in Green Shirt) stops at a Tiny Doors ATL installation; Sandy Murray’s Arboretum tour group taking a break at Ponce City Market.
Jeff Keesee, for instance, is a long-time Trees Atlanta volunteer who got involved twenty-seven years ago as an obligation to fulfill after his Letter to the Editor was published in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, but has stayed ever since (hopefully no longer as an obligation). For Jeff, the docent tours allow him to educate people about the BeltLine Arboretum and also for him to learn more about the city he has lived in for so long. In his tours, he incorporates personal tidbits about stops along the trail and also weaves in his fascination for maps and streets. He maintains a personal blog where he follows up after each tour with photos and answers to questions he didn’t know at the time.
Kathy Brennan got involved two years ago with the Docent Training course when she moved to Atlanta. Her tour doesn’t center around the Beltline Arboretum. Instead, Kathy worked with the Atlanta Preservation Center to create a tour in Grant Park around where she lives. She guides visitors through the park, starting off by asking each member to think of a childhood memory about trees. The tour continues through the park, and Kathy points out trees, asks questions to the audience, and provides a history of the park.
For Sandy Murray, she was encouraged to get involved with Docent Training because of her experience as a master birder with Georgia Audubon. Since 2013, she has led many different sorts of tours from special birding tours at Lullwater Park to bike tours, ecological tours, and tree identification tours. Since starting those tours, she’s seen a definitive increase in birds along the BeltLine. As grasses, trees and plants have been planted, matured, and started blooming, birds now have a habitat to fly to. For Sandy, she “really [likes] talking about trees and the interrelationship between insects and birds and why the BeltLine is an important connector for wild animals like coyotes”.
For Trees Atlanta to spread our message about the importance of urban forestry, the restoration of greenspaces, and our impact, we need docents like Jeff, Sandy, and Kathy to spread these teachings to the greater public. Docent Training starts in January each year so look out next year for that opportunity!
Photos below (L-R): Chris Hrubesh at Castleberry Hill; Mike Snyder (left) and Alex Levy planting at Brownwood Park; Aaron Bose (left) and Ed Wooller at Atlanta Memorial Park, photo credit: Jimmy Lee.
If you are looking to deepen your knowledge of trees and the environment, our TreeKeeper program may be of interest. The TreeKeeper program provides an education on all aspects of urban forest stewardship — from Atlanta’s trees to management of disease and invasive species to community outreach.
Chris Hrubesh and Mike Snyder have both been volunteering for almost twenty years. For them, the TreeKeeper program was a supplement to what they already had learned over the years. Chris started volunteering about eighteen years ago and got involved with TreeKeepers by being asked to record and upload the training for YouTube. Using what he learned in TreeKeepers and from years of experience, Chris has since led several tree planting projects as well as conducted tree maintenance around his own neighborhood.
Mike Snyder discovered Trees Atlanta through word of mouth and got hooked. He took TreeKeepers right when it was launching as a way to build on what he already knew and learned a lot about how to be a neighborhood advocate and about volunteer interactions.
Aaron Bose and Cole Hairston started volunteering more recently but have used TreeKeepers training to begin leading their own projects at greenspaces around Atlanta. Aaron started volunteering in 2014 and started leading projects once a month at Atlanta Memorial Park in 2018. For him, the training was a way “to become more involved [and] more impactful”. In the past two years of leading projects, he has seen a definite visual difference in the park — you can now see from the park to the river to the other side of the park.
Through the TreeKeeper and Forest Stewardship training, Cole Hairston really began to appreciate his time spent volunteering with Trees Atlanta. Before the training this fall, he never thought he would become as involved as he is now (going to two projects almost every week), but he “just gained more interest as it went along and it became really fun for [him]”. Having started TreeKeepers with little knowledge about tree identification or invasive species or even gardening, Cole’s appreciation of the natural world around him changed. He recalled that at a Tree Identification course at Piedmont Park, a park that as an Atlanta native he had been to thousands of times, he was amazed that from one area, they could point out 30 or so different trees that he never would’ve noticed before. Cole and Taryn (our Forest Restoration manager) are working together to begin a project at the Oakhurst Green Space in Decatur soon.
Sign up for Aaron’s projects at Atlanta Memorial Park on the second Saturday of each month and Morningside Nature Preserve on the 4th Saturday of each month and keep on the lookout for Cole’s! This year’s TreeKeepers training begins in late July and runs for eight weeks through September.
Photos below (L-R): Glenn Legacki leading a forest restoration project at Gilliam Park; Volunteer Cole Hairston (right) led his first tree planting demo in Freedom Park.
In the past few years, an additional Certified Volunteer program, Forest Stewardship, was created to teach practical concepts about everyday forest restoration, from identifying invasive species to the basic science of restoration and methods to control invasive species.
Glenn Legacki, after undergoing the Forest Stewardship training, has also started leading projects at Gilliam Park in the Edgewood neighborhood once a month. Through the Forest Stewardship class, he learned more about invasives and the importance of removal and also worked with the Forest Restoration team on how to apply this knowledge. When he learned that Trees Atlanta was looking for people to lead projects, Glenn felt as if the best way to maximize his own impact was to lead projects and help to expand Trees Atlanta’s reach. Despite the slow pace at which Forest Restoration projects seem to move at, he has seen improvements at Gilliam Park even just after a few months.
In the Georgia Piedmont forest community, Glenn informed me, “you should be able to see through the wooded area. If there is a lot of kudzu or Chinese privet or other woody invasives, it looks almost like a mangrove forest.” But now, the forest at Gilliam Park appears a lot less dense than it did before. For Glenn, leading projects allows him to “get [people] excited about what Trees Atlanta does and the good work they do around the city”.
Cole Hairston also just finished up the project leadership component of his Forest Stewardship certification a couple of weeks ago and found that the training taught him how to tackle a large forest restoration project. He has been working with the Forest Restoration team at South Bend Park every week which has been eye-opening to see just how long and involved the process is. On a specific hill, Cole remembers it originally being covered in trash and kudzu. Now that hill is cleared of the trash and kudzu and covered in pretty perennial plants. Keep an eye out for Glenn’s projects at Gilliam Park on the first Saturday of each month.
If you’re interested in becoming a Certified Forest Steward, the course takes place in the month of October!
Become a Volunteer
Everyone has a slightly different reason for joining and a slightly different reason for continuing to volunteer, but what connects us is a continued passion for our urban forests and the community that Trees Atlanta creates.
We all have different favorite memories, whether it’s planting in the snow at Grant Park or being in awe of the sheer beauty of the urban spaces we help to maintain or practicing French with fellow volunteers while at a planting. We all have different favorite trees (and different reasons why they’re our favorites). Whether it’s an American beech because it reminds us of family, or if it’s the ginkgo because of its beautiful yellow leaves, or if it’s an Eastern redbud because its purple blooms are a signal of spring.
We all have different reasons why we keep coming back whether it’s because Trees Atlanta allows us “to make the city [ours]… in a place where almost everyone is a transplant,” as Mike Snyder noted. It could also be because we want to help maintain our urban forests for future generations, or because it’s just fun!
All these things are possible because of the weathered volunteers who help out someone new to get a stubborn root out, because of the new volunteers who may not even own gloves but come ready to help out, because of our Green Shirt volunteers who keep coming back, and because of our Certified Volunteers who go above and beyond to learn more about what Trees Atlanta does and spread that knowledge. There’s a place for everyone at Trees Atlanta and that is what makes it so wonderful.
Thank you volunteers!
To get started, create a volunteer profile and sign up for an upcoming project.