August 30, 2019

Creating equitable green space one tree at a time

Here are three stories about empowering communities—from locals planting trees to kids exercising their voices.

Underserved neighborhoods in America's cities often lack the green space seen in wealthier neighborhoods. American Forests’s Tree Equity program is trying to change that. Photo By Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

Each week, The Renewal Project shares three stories from around the country that highlight the innovative solutions people are creating in their communities. This week, how to empower neighborhoods by giving them access to green space and how to help kids find their voices through philanthropy and knowledge. What are the innovative ideas in your hometown? Tell us at

Tree the people: Studies have shown that living near trees can improve your mental and physical health. They help keep the air clean, provide cover from the sun, and all around enhance your neighborhood’s natural beauty. But in cities across the country, there’s a deep disparity in tree canopy between wealthy and underserved communities.

American Forests’s Tree Equity program wants to change that. The U.S.’s oldest national conservation organization connects residents in these underserved communities with green jobs and empowers them to create more green space in their own neighborhoods. Sarah Anderson, senior manager with Tree Equity, recently spoke with The Grist about the importance of empowering residents through work and why it’s important for locals to plant their own trees.

“When you have seen years of systemic disinvestment in your community—nonprofits come in and out, businesses come in and out, city representatives have high rates of turnover—it affects your ability to trust anybody,” she told The Grist. “When we make sure that people can be the authors of their own destinies and the designers of their own communities, the result is health, wealth, and resilience.” Read more from Anderson’s conversation here.

Philanthropists for life: As a child care specialist for hospitals in Atlanta, Kristen Witzel saw first hand how much children want to help other people in need.

“Kids want to make a difference. They want to do something to change the world and have an impact, but they often just don’t know how,” Witzel told Fast Company.

That’s why she founded the nonprofit Kids Boost, to teach children how to give back. It’s a three-month long program for kids ages 8-14. Each student is given $100 to seed their philanthropy idea. Assigned coaches help them develop an idea, as well as plan and execute it. The result? 125 successful projects that have raised more than $200,000 for worthy causes.

Power to the little people: A new book for tweens asks: What is power, who has it, and why? The Power Book aims to answer these questions for kids ages 7-11. According to publisher Ivy Kids, this new book will include discussions on topics such as bullying, racism, and homophobia. Kids will gain an understanding of the power dynamics in place in the grown up world, in the hope that they can learn how to exercise their own power.

The Renewal Project recently wrote about a program in Ithaca, New York, that encourages children to exercise their civic power. Mayor Svante Myrick spoke with us about how it’s important to demonstrate to young people that their opinions matter. Myrick emphasized that will matter even more when they’re old enough to vote. “It’s about demonstrating to young people that they have power, before they can be told by the world the opposite,” he said.

The Renewal Project

The Renewal Project, made possible by Allstate, tells the stories of individuals and organizations who are solving problems in their communities.
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