Teen Urban Foresters’ Stories

“I’ve grown as a leader, said Jazmin, describing her experience with Canopy as a Teen Urban Forester (TUF) from 2011 to 2013. “Leading groups and volunteers, I’ve gained confidence and learned a sense of responsibility.”

If you’ve volunteered for a tree planting or tree care workday, you may have met Jazmin Perez and Brian Maldonado. Wearing yellow vests at volunteer workdays to identify them as leaders, the TUFs set up the sites for volunteers, and are also available to answer questions and guide volunteers throughout the morning. During the weekday, they continue caring for over 2,000 young trees with Natalia Schoorl, Canopy’s Education and Tree Care Manager. With more time available during the summer, their work expands to organizing Canopy’s annual Young Tree Care Survey.

Jazmin, an artist who dreams of becoming an animator at Dreamworks one day, came to Canopy as a nature lover. Growing up in East Palo Alto, she went camping with her family and has a treasury of memories featuring the star-studded skies she’s seen while away from city lights. Her connection to nature has extended to a mature tree she loved at her elementary school, Beechwood School. “It grew out to the side,” she describes gesturing to draw its shape. “There was a lot of shade to sit under. In the rain, it was a good cover.” As she recalled her memories of what she calls “my tree,” she pondered the meaning of trees, “Trees give a sense of…” and searching for the words she concludes, “a homey feeling.”

In one of her classes at Eastside College Preparatory School, she learned about deforestation. “I wanted to do something about it,” she emphasized. When she heard about Canopy TUF, she was so happy to be helping that it surprised her that she could also get paid.

Jazmin has gained a new found respect for gardeners, landscapers, and anyone who does manual labor. “There’s a lot that goes into caring for trees,” she commented seriously and then laughed. “I’m tired when I come home!”

Brian, a mathematics and volleyball lover, looked baffled when he tried to recall a favorite childhood tree. He confessed that before Canopy he hadn’t spent much time outdoors. “I lived in a rough neighborhood,” he explained, “It wasn’t safe to go outside.” Brian grew up living in apartments in Oakland. For the last four years he’s lived in the Eastside dormitory. When his summer program counselor encouraged him to become a member of TUF, he wondered if he could fit it in his schedule with homework, volleyball, soccer, Boy Scouts, and speech and debate. “I wasn’t doing anything else on Saturday morning,” he decided and joined the program.

Canopy has given Brian his first experience of being connected to nature. “I love being out here,” he beamed as he gestured to the field of young trees he cares for on the Brentwood Academy campus in East Palo Alto. “I can go all around here.”

His experience has translated to his personal life. “I’ve started to value more of what our urban forest gives us. Some people might say, big whoop!–it’s a tree. But I see the value.” His eyes brightened as he bubbled over with youthful enthusiasm searching for the words to share his discovery, “To sit under a big tree,” he sighed with delight, “under a big canopy…. and relax into it.” It’s not the same as relaxing at home, he said. “To feel the air hitting you, it’s a great experience!”

Brian and Jazmin pride themselves on the impact their work has had. “On planting day, I could step back and say, ‘I did that,’” boasted Brian, who will be studying economics at UC Riverside. “You can see it. It’s lasting.” Jazmin anticipates the way she’ll feel seeing the trees when she comes back home from Ohio University where she’ll study animation, “I’ll feel proud of myself that I’ve been part of it,” she says.  The measures Canopy takes to ensure trees have the best chance of survival reassures her. “I like knowing that the trees will be here when I come home, and I can watch them grow.”

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