Trees Atlanta Volunteers Work Creatively From a Distance During COVID-19

As a community forestry organization that depends on volunteers to carry out our work, pausing our group volunteer projects greatly impacts our work. While the city is following local stay-at-home orders, a number of Trees Atlanta volunteers continue to share their passion, skills, and time by shifting the way they volunteer with us during the global pandemic.

Atlanta’s stay-at-home orders included tree care work as an essential service, so Trees Atlanta outdoor crews continued work in the field, and a limited number of trained and experienced volunteers worked alone on various projects, such as pruning, while observing recommended safety protocols. The rest of our staff have been working from home with limited work in our buildings.



We continue to monitor expert advice about resuming regular work and using the City of Atlanta’s Reopening Phases as guidance (for more information, please visit We are rolling out new procedures that will allow more volunteers to join us as soon as it’s prudent to do so. We can’t wait to have our volunteers working with us again, but the health and safety of our community and employees is foremost.

As of May 27, the City of Atlanta entered into Phase 2 of the Reopening Phases. In June, we’ll be introducing more small group projects with 9 or fewer volunteers. Projects will be posted on our Calendar of Events, as we have in the past. Volunteers must review the safety protocols included for each event and follow the requirements. We led several small group projects with our most experienced volunteers in late May, limiting groups to 5 or fewer volunteers. Leading these projects helped us to evaluate that limited numbers of volunteers can maintain physical distance and accomplish the project tasks.


Volunteer pruning a tree


We are mindfully planning how we’ll head into the coming months and how we’ll lead larger volunteer projects and other outreach and education events. Meanwhile, before we move forward, we want to acknowledge and celebrate the volunteers — named and unnamed — who have helped us accomplish some critical tasks during the past weeks.

Volunteers have helped us achieve some big projects. Especially notable was their help in early April to quickly convert our annual Native Plant Sale from an on-site sale to a virtual online store in a matter of days. Green Shirt volunteer Tom Deal was instrumental in making the online store come to life by uploading photos and descriptions over 150 selections for sale. Many volunteers came in shifts to unload, organize, deliver, and distribute 3,000 plants with no-contact pickup procedures over a period of 5 days. With their help, we were able to generate critically needed revenue for our operating funds. The economic impact of COVID-19 closures is affecting nonprofit organizations as well as for-profit businesses; therefore, every action that helps us to continue funding our operations is greatly appreciated.

In early March, before the complete suspension of group projects, Saturday volunteers participated in a “socially distanced” tree planting. We required each volunteer to be able to plant a tree entirely on their own (or groups/families who live in the same household were able to work together). The last such project was in Reynoldstown, and 20 volunteers were able to plant over 40 trees that morning.



When more restrictions were introduced, volunteers served in other creative ways. They led Zoom-based virtual Storytime for kids, took photos that they shared with us for social posts, wrote recommendations for a grant application, documented trees for new mapped tours of our seven neighborhood arboreta, and created and edited videos for promotional and education purposes. Not only that, but our trained pruning volunteers, including Alan Stewart, Bill Pardue, Ward Hobbs, Chris Liggett, Tyler McCrary, Lisbet Phillips, and Ed Wooller have also been solo pruning on their own following an assigned list of trees. (New volunteers continue to be trained through our virtual Pruning 101 classes.) We’ve also sent instructions to many homeowners who wanted to tackle removing invasive vines from trees in their yards: what a fantastic way to enjoy the outdoors without straying far!

Green Shirt volunteer Jeff Keesee who had been leading monthly BeltLine Arboretum walking tours, refocused his abundant energy to help us get ready for the fall tree planting season by scouting out potential spots to plant new trees. We still need more scouting, so please send a note to if you are interested in helping in your neighborhood.

To stay in touch while we are apart, Green Shirt volunteers joined in on weekly Saturday morning virtual coffee talks to chat and share what is bringing them joy. Similarly, a general volunteer “May the Forest Be With You” social Zoom event was hosted on May 4th. While we navigate for new ways to achieve our mission and protect the health and safety of our staff and community, please keep in touch by following our social media accounts (@treesatlanta) or adding our email newsletters to your contacts to prevent them from ending up in spam folders.


Computer screen showing a zoom call with Trees Atlanta staff and volunteers


Lastly, please make sure that your volunteer profile is updated with skills that you might want us to know about, and feel free to contact if you are a Green Shirt, Certified Volunteer, or experienced volunteer who can work solo on tree care tasks. Thank you to all of our volunteers for your resiliency and for stepping up to help us continue to protect and improve our urban forest.

Published June 8, 2020
Written by Susan Pierce Cunningham