A dense green tree canopy not only makes neighborhoods more inviting but also can reduce the effects of air pollution and climate change. A 2019 study by the city found Little Village was among communities burdened by higher air pollution — and now, the neighborhood is planting the seeds for change.
In April, the organizations Openlands and Enlace partnered with community members to plant 31 climate-resistant trees throughout Little Village, including several at the Kanoon Magnet School. The varieties include bur oak, tulip and serviceberry trees.
Kanoon teacher Luz Vargas said it began with a learning garden she helped manage at the school.
“I had a Zen club, like a club that would gather and we would do some gardening,” Vargas said. “We have a learning garden, and so we had the kids come up with an idea that we really wanted to plant some trees. We got in touch with another organization, Enlace, who told us about Openlands and that they help with that. They help bringing the trees, planting them, gathering the volunteers, organizing them, surveying the area for where they might be able to plan things not only at our school but in the community. And so it just kind of grew from that.”
Parent volunteer Maria Melendez-Soto said in Spanish that she already had a network of mothers in the community, so she was a perfect fit to do outreach for the project.
“I’m a coordinator for mothers who are mentors, and they invited me to the tree planting project,” Melendez-Soto said. “I really like to help out so that’s why I got involved, and to have more trees in the community and at the school.”
Vargas said she’s excited to see Kanoon students see the project through to its fruition and watch the trees grow in their community.
“We’re going to teach them that you can make something happen. … We went from this being a theory, even just reading about the need for trees that we actually went through the whole process of being proactive and putting trees in our community,” Vargas said. “I definitely think it’s teaching them a lesson that they can make a difference, that they can go all the way and make a difference in their communities.”
Trees for people, organizations and neighborhoods can be awarded via grants through Openlands. Openlands has also long offered a tree ambassador volunteer course, TreeKeepers, for free — and the organization has expanded that program to offer a course in Spanish as well.