By Canopy Team on June 24, 2022
Throughout Canopy’s history, tree champions from across sectors and communities have lent their unique talents and dedication to plant and care for trees where they are needed the most, nurture young leaders, and advocate for tree-filled neighborhoods.
As part of our 25th anniversary festivities, Canopy was proud and grateful to honor these champions, whose contributions continue to make a lasting impact, along with the key groups they represent.
Representing Founders and Board Alumni
Susan’s love of trees started in childhood. She admired the majestic native oaks of the Salinas Valley which she considered her wise old friends. In 1994, Susan and her kids left their Palo Alto home for a year to pursue a landscape design program in Massachusetts. When she returned, she learned about Palo Alto’s Tree Task Force and got involved. Thanks to the hard work and advocacy of Susan and her fellow members, the Tree Task Force grew into what is now Canopy and Susan was a founding board member. “Back then,” she shares, “we were just tree huggers. Then the science around trees began to grow, and Canopy’s work took on a whole new significance.”
Since those early days, Susan has continued to nurture the organization and its mission in transformative ways as Board Chair, Governance Committee Chair, volunteer extraordinaire, generous donor, trusted advisor, community ambassador, and tireless champion. In 2015, Susan spearheaded Canopy’s first-ever multi-year campaign, “Growing the Canopy,” and contributed one of the campaign’s lead gifts. She has consistently opened both her heart and her home to the Canopy community, hosting myriad parties, gatherings, and meetings in her beautiful garden. Throughout it all, Susan and her can-do spirit have been a constant source of encouragement, wisdom, and inspiration for the entire Canopy family.
Representing Volunteers and Donors
It’s doubtful that anybody at Canopy has planted as many trees as Marty Deggeller! Marty joined Canopy as a volunteer and board member in 2000 and has been among the organization’s most dedicated volunteers and impactful leaders ever since. Marty has worn almost every hat that exists at Canopy, from chairing the board and program committee and spearheading projects in the field to keeping the organization’s operations and finances running smoothly behind the scenes.
Marty is both a thinker and a doer, and has lent both talents in spades to keep Canopy’s programs growing and serving the community for decades. He’s been instrumental in seeking out new opportunities for tree planting and community partnership, and has helped secure pivotal funding, including Canopy’s state CAL FIRE grants. Not to mention the famous home-smoked salmon he’s provided for many a Canopy party!
At every event, Marty’s love for planting trees, leading volunteers, and bringing people together stand out through his warm welcome, patient teaching, sunny smile, and ready chuckle.
Marty has done all this alongside hundreds, even thousands of fellow volunteers and donors—many of whom Marty has recruited personally! This group of passionate, generous, and dedicated people have powered Canopy’s work from the very beginning. Their invaluable contributions of time, talent, and treasure continue to inspire and make possible Canopy’s impact today.
Representing Community Leaders and Officials
As the Mayor of East Palo Alto in 2005, Pat Foster asked Canopy to bring more trees to her community. Data showed that children in East Palo Alto were hospitalized for asthma at significantly higher rates than in neighboring communities, and she recognized the critical health benefits that more trees could bring to her constituents. Pat tirelessly championed the project among the City Council and was a key partner in Canopy’s planning process, ensuring local community priorities stayed front and center. With her friendly, fun, and persistent personality, Pat doesn’t take no for an answer when it comes to the future of her community. Her advocacy for trees ensured the success of these early East Palo Alto planting projects and laid a foundation for the city’s visionary new Urban Forest Master Plan.
Elected officials like Pat have been key partners for Canopy since the very beginning, when the organization’s work started as the City of Palo Alto Tree Task Force. Policy is a critical lever in growing equitable urban canopy cover, and elected officials like Pat show up every day to make it happen and serve the community. Local officials have also recognized Canopy as a key link between the city and community and have partnered closely to engage, educate, and connect residents with the urban forest around them.
Representing Teen Urban Foresters
Eric Perez’s most notable characteristic is his enthusiastic approach to everything he does. He has genuine interest in trees, the urban forest, and the large-scale environmental impact that can result when people work together. He is a connector, and during his four-year tenure as a Teen Urban Forester, he inspired fellow high school students, welcomed volunteers, and was a Canopy liaison to residents of his community. Eric is great ambassador and spokesperson for the urban forest and for Canopy’s work—from teaching and mentoring young students to steward trees on their school campuses, to speaking at Canopy’s events, and sharing about the benefits of trees with his neighbors—Eric truly does speak for the trees. He continues to pursue his passion for the environment through his studies and leadership roles at Georgetown University, and positive change continues to ripple from everything he puts his heart into.
Youth leaders like Eric have been instrumental in Canopy’s work since 2007, when we first piloted the “Youth Staff” program. With their fresh ideas, willingness to take action, and hope for the future, these high school students have a unique ability to engage and inspire others, bringing the rest of the community along as they care for trees, local neighborhoods, and each other.
Representing Institutional Funders
As the first Urban Forester for the City of Palo Alto, Walter Passmore helped transform the city’s tree department and spearheaded Palo Alto’s first Urban Forest Master Plan in 2015. His vision and hard work elevated the city to a leader in urban forestry that cities around the world look to for inspiration when managing their own urban forests.
Walter has been a key partner to Canopy, working closely with the organization to engage residents in stewarding tree canopies throughout Palo Alto neighborhoods. Now in his role as the Urban Forest Program Manager at CAL FIRE, Walter continues to champion urban forests at the state level, including developing projects such as the Sustainability and Climate Action Plan to preserve our trees for future generations of Californians.
Leaders like Walter and the institutions they guide—including state agencies like CAL FIRE, local governments and their staff, and private foundations—have played a transformational role in growing Canopy’s programs and impact. CalFire in particular has provided multi-year funding for critical initiatives like Branching Out, which funds tree planting in neighborhoods where tree cover is scarce due to historical development patterns, investing in more environmentally just communities.
Since 2011, Canopy has planted thousands of trees with students and families on the school campuses throughout the Ravenswood City School District. Thanks to Nico Janik, these plantings have been accompanied by hands-on science lessons for students to learn about and care for trees outside their classrooms.
As the STEM Coordinator for the district, Nico has maintained and expanded Canopy’s partnerships with the district and fellow environmental nonprofits, helping us reach every school in the district and ensuring equitable opportunities for students to learn from Canopy’s staff and volunteers under the shade of healthy trees. Nico has been a long-time thought partner, our go-to for questions and resources, and our liaison to principals and teachers for almost nine years. She guided our curriuculm development to align lessons with the Next Generation Science Standards and trained Canopy’s staff and education volunteers on teaching approaches that are inclusive and engaging for all students.
Partnerships with schools have helped Canopy work alongside districts to plant trees with children and for children, in the areas where they learn and play. These school partnerships transform communities by improving the health of students, inspiring these children as the next generation of environmental stewards, and connecting families with tangible ways they can support their communities.
Representing Arborists and Landscape Professionals
As a Consulting Arborist at S.P. McClennahan, Jason Shirar is a very busy guy! Nevertheless, he always makes time for Canopy whenever we ask for his help. Jason started volunteering with Canopy in 2015 and was a guiding member of the first Tree Care Task Force, ensuring that Canopy-planted trees receive the care they need to establish and thrive. He is an educator at heart and genuinely wants people to love, know about, and care for trees as much as he does. He is always willing to share his professional expertise with the community by leading tree walks, writing blog posts, and teaching classes to local residents as part of Canopy’s Community Forestry School. It’s impossible not to be in awe of trees after a program with Jason! It is not uncommon for Jason to pop into the Canopy office with an interesting seed pod or tree branch and we have him to thank for our growing inventory of tree treasures that we share with students and community members alike.
Arborists and other tree professionals like Jason have been contributing their expertise to Canopy’s programs since the beginning, ensuring that Canopy’s programs and methods are grounded in science and guided by industry best practices. These practitioners’ willingness to share knowledge with the whole community has made Canopy a trusted, go-to resource for learning about local trees and their care.
Representing Grassroots Advocates
Peying Lee’s love for the outdoors and her community have inspired her to be a vocal advocate for growing the urban forest in her home of Mountain View. Peying was a member of Canopy’s first Community Forestry School cohort in 2019. Since then, she’s been a valuable member of Canopy’s advocacy committee and a field planting leader. Channeling her inner “Energizer Bunny,” Peying joins Mountain View city council and commission meetings regularly to advocate around issues including the community tree master plan update, developing with trees in mind, and prioritizing the urban forest in city planning and budgeting. She acts as a liasion between Canopy and GreenspacesMV, a grassroots advocacy coalition in Mountain View, and her community-minded work is helping Mountain View’s urban canopy grow fuller each year.
Advocating for community trees has always been a core part of Canopy’s work, and dedicated residents like Peying have been a driving force in transforming the urban landscape of Midpeninsula communities. As one Canopy board member quipped, “you can plant more trees with a pen than a shovel.” Passionate residents like Peying, actively invested in the future of their communities, have helped strengthen urban forestry legislation, planning, and practices throughout Canopy’s service area and beyond.