It was an infinite love for trees that created the Kensington based group, Philly Tree People.
Three like-minded women, Jacelyn Blank, Dina Richman and Nykia Perez were attending a Tree Tenders workshop through the Philadelphia Horticultural Society when they met and discovered that all three of them lived in the same neighborhood and had the same desire for Kensington’s tree canopy to grow.
“Each one of us just wanted trees in front of our houses,” Richman said. “We realized through the tree tender’s course that if we applied for ten trees we would be more likely to get them. We put the word out through the local newspaper and we got 70 applications and we ended up planting 76 trees that first time. It was a big party.”
Since November 2008, Philly Tree People has joined over 41 tree tender groups in Philadelphia.They plant trees twice a year, both in the fall and spring with the help of volunteers from the neighborhood who share the same passion as they do. Every planting they have anywhere from 90 to 145 volunteers to help them and depending on how many trees they are planting at that time, they break up into teams and are dispersed around the neighborhood. It is a long day filled with digging up topsoil that is full of cement and large rocks to planting the trees to a free meal at the end of the day provided by the Philadelphia Brewing Co.
Philly Tree People also does other events and workshops throughout the year such as a tree pruning club and tool sharpening workshops.
Their mission falls in step with TreeVitalize, a statewide program that hopes to plant one million trees in the tri-state Delaware Valley region. Its main goal is to replace the city’s tree canopy that is dying due to age, development and or disease. Most of Philadelphia’s full-grown trees were planted over 60-years ago. So far, Philadelphia has planted 148,714 trees, according to phillytreemap.org, and Philly Tree People is responsible for planting 743 of those trees in the East Kensington, Kensington and Fishtown communities.
Those who are interested in growing and nurturing a tree on their property have to go through an application process six months in advance from the time of the next tree planting. Applying for a free tree is not a simple process. There are many steps needed to ensure that the tree will live a healthy life wherever it may be planted.
For example, Philly Tree People sends the application to the Philadelphia Horticultural Society where the Society puts it into their database and then sends it to Fairmount Parks and Recreation. Once the applicant has made it to that point, an arborist is sent to the location to inspect the ground as well as any wires or poles that may harm the tree. The arborist also decides on which species of tree would benefit the most from its spot in the neighborhood. After the arborist approves the location, the applicant is given the green light for a tree to be planted on their property during the next planting session.
Kensington resident Wendy Seiferheld reached out to Philly Tree People after she heard an announcement about the initiative at an East Kensington Neighborhood Association meeting. Seiferheld was part of the very first tree planting where she acquired a tree in front of one of her two properties located on the same block. After seeing her tree, a few of her neighbors have had trees planted in front of their property. Now Seiferheld’s street is lined with six trees all from Philly Tree People.
“I wanted a tree and I thought it was a good cause,” Seiferheld said. “It’s night and day when you walk down a block with trees or without them. It just feels more livable.”
Another resident who has been involved with Philly Tree People from its inception is Brooke Hoffman, a teacher at Penn Treaty Middle School. She has been involved in every tree planting and often includes a handful of her students involving them in helping beautify their neighborhood. Along with the fun and providing service to their community, Hoffman’s students learn more lessons than just how to plant a tree.
“They learn a skill, work as a team, and build relationships with adults, who are likely living in or near their neighborhoods but aren’t in their network. They also get to transform the reputation urban teens have,” Hoffman said.
Since the fall of 2008, Philadelphia’s tree tender groups have planted an average of 2,000 trees per year, Philly Tree People’s Dina Richman said. Trees are vital to the urban environment for a number of reasons. Beyond beautifying a neighborhood, trees provide many economic benefits.
“Once the tree is large enough in the summer time it provides shade so your cooling costs are lot less,” Richmond’s colleague Jacelyn Blank said.
According to TreePhilly out of Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, trees that provide enough shade for a house can cut air-conditioning costs by as much as 30 percent. Trees also help with storm water runoff by soaking up the rain, instead of it going into the sewer system, which overfills and the polluted water enters the rivers and streams.
In Kensington alone, the 1,870 trees that have been planted through Philly Tree People and other tree tenders groups have conserved 919,854 gallons of water, according to phillytreemap.org. Trees can also add a 10 percent value to a property’s value, Blank said.
With all of the benefits that trees bring to the Kensington community, Philly Tree People plans to fill the neighborhood with as many trees as they can.
“We plan to plant until there’s no more room,” Blank said.