Published April 23, 2015
UB sent another sizable troupe of student volunteers to plant trees in South Campus neighborhoods last Saturday as part of the “ReTree the District” project that aims to plant 1,000 trees in the University District by the end of 2016.
Saturday’s community activity was the next phase of a project that began last Nov. 1 when 350 volunteers — many of them UB students — planted 175 trees on streets surrounding the South Campus.
For the students, the project fulfills multiple objectives. There is the satisfaction of literally having a hand in upgrading a neighborhood. It also fulfills a university commitment to create positive change for others and demonstrate active citizenship through hands-on, experiential learning programs.
The tree-planting is considered a “Saturday of Service” activity, one of the programs offered by the university’s Office of Student Engagement.
“Saturdays of Service are monthly, one-time service opportunities open to all UB students,” says Rachel DiDomizio, community engagement coordinator for the Office of Student Engagement.
“This year we have focused on supporting projects occurring in the University Heights community. The Office of Student Engagement joined over 300 other volunteers and participated in Phase I of this initiative back in November and we were excited to partner with the University Heights Tool Library to continue supporting this wonderful venture,” DiDomizio said.
About 250 UB students lent their hands to Saturday’s “ReTree the District” effort, which focused on the Bailey-Kensington and University Heights neighborhoods, according to Aaron Krolikowski, director of research and public policy for the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County, and managing volunteer for the University Heights Tool Library.
“UB students and faculty have been phenomenal throughout this process, from the initial planning to what is now our second planting,” Krolikowski says.
“In the planning we were able to work with small groups of 30 to 40 UB students in the university’s Civic Engagement Academy and UB’s Honors Colloquium planning those logistics. It’s a complex process.”
Krolikowski singled out several UB students who took on important leadership roles. John O’Brien, a member of UB’s Honors program, was a “go-to guy” through several stages of the event, Krolikowski say, noting that O’Brien led logistical planning for registration, as well as community mapping and tree maintenance.
UB student Mario Ayoub also was instrumental in identifying tree species and leading volunteer groups, according to Krolikowski. Ayoub served as a street captain in charge of 30 volunteers; other street captains were community block club presidents and community engagement specialists.
“Mario held his own alongside some very established community leaders,” says Krolikowski.
Christy Krawczyk, a graduate assistant in the Office of Student Engagement, also was a key UB volunteer, says Krolikowski, who graduated from UB in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in political science.
“Christy was phenomenal in getting students out for tree mapping and tree maintenance,” he says. “She also was a street captain, leading a whole team of students from the Office of Student Engagement.”
Saturday’s activity was the latest phase in the “ReTree the District” initiative. Organizers have set a goal of planting 1,000 trees over two years in hopes of increasing property values and strengthening community ties.
Saturday’s goal was to plant 235 trees, which would bring the number of new trees to 435, Krolikowski says. More plantings are planned for fall of 2015 and spring of 2016, eventually reaching the 1,000-tree goal.
The University District’s “ReTree the District” is part of the larger “ReTree Western New York,” a coordinated effort that aims to plant 30,000 new trees throughout the city. Saturday’s planting brought the number of new trees citywide to 27,200, within striking distance of the 30,000 goal.
The University District’s effort is the largest tree-planting in the program.