Nonprofit plants hope after earning top award in 50 States for Good contest
In 2008, Hurricane Ike devastated a beautiful island community in Texas and destroyed over 40,000 trees.
Within a year, the Galveston Island Tree Conservancy offered a recovery plan that earned major funding.
“Insurance replaces homes and cars, but what about all our trees? That part of Hurricane Ike’s damage was just heart-breaking for everyone here in Galveston.”
Arborist Priscilla Files is the Galveston Island Tree Conservancy’s only employee and she knew she had a big job ahead after the storm.
“No one thought we would lose so many trees. Some of these trees are very old and had survived so many storms through the years. They were part of Galveston’s character and that’s just not easy to replace.”
Not easy, but possible. That’s why Files and the nonprofit group’s board of directors put their heads together to figure out a plan.
“We wanted to plant 25,000 new trees over five years or so and asked the community to help us. We called the plan we developed ‘Neighborwoods’. It focused on two goals: planting trees and building community.”
Neighborwoods began like this: Files and other experts canvassed the island and put up signs in spots where new trees could be planted. Then they invited neighbors to choose which kind of tree would be planted in each spot. In return, neighbors agreed to water and care for the trees.
“Their choices included drought-resistant and hurricane-resistant trees ranging in height from 4 to 12 feet, and some came from as far away as Arizona.”
All the nonprofit needed to really bring the plan to life was funding. That’s where the Tom’s of Maine 50 States for Good program presented an opportunity in 2011.
“When we came across 50 States for Good we knew we couldn’t pass it up. The program is so cool and applying online is so easy!”
Galveston Island Tree Conservancy made the cut, and a panel of esteemed judges declared it a finalist. That’s when the group’s campaign for the top prize took root.
“Facebook was everything. We posted constantly to get the word out and campaigned for votes. We sent out press releases, made posters and wrote emails. We even drew the attention of local television and radio stations. We were relentless in trying to convince people to vote for us at the online voting site.”
The hard work paid off – literally. Files and her army of volunteers got the news that they had earned the most votes and the $50,000 top prize.
“All we could think was, ‘Wow! We did it!’ It was just overwhelming.”
Since then, the award has funded everything from snacks for volunteers to the purchase of trees. By the end of the next planting season, the nonprofit will have planted over 10,000 trees.
“Everyone feels so wonderful about what we’re accomplishing together. We turned tree planting into a community movement that’s bringing people together. Every single neighborhood has hosted some sort of barbecue or similar event surrounding plantings.”
Files is now convinced that even the biggest problems can be solved. She says you just have to believe and take one step at a time.
“People here are resilient, you know. We’ve been through monster hurricanes before and we always bounce back. And we’ve done it again. We’re back – Galveston is back.”
Learn more about the 50 States for Good program and vote now for the grassroots nonprofit in your area at Facebook.com.
Find more information about the Galveston Island Tree Conservancy at GalvestonIslandTreeConservancy.org.