RETREET redefines disaster relief by engaging communities to replant lost trees.


Many remarkable moments have occurred on RETREET.

Days before our event in Joplin, MO, began, Hurricane Sandy hit. One of our most recurrent RETREETers, Harry, watched in helpless frustration as images of his neighborhood, now a swirling tide of totaled homes, filled the TV screen in the lobby of our hotel during breakfast. “Well, there’s nothing I could do if I was there, so I am just going to concentrate on what we are here for: planting trees for people,” Harry resolved.

Later that day, as Harry worked in a neighborhood that had been obliterated by a tornado the previous year, he saw a young family holding an estate sale. Harry walked over to find out why the family seemed to be selling everything they owned.

“After the tornado hit,” the father explained, “people from all over showed up to help us. We didn’t have insurance. A church group built this new house. Others filled it with things. It was amazing. We wanted to do something for the victims of Sandy, so we decided to sell everything we don’t need and send the money to help those people. You know, pay it forward.”

Harry told the family about his community in NJ and explained what he was doing in Joplin. An assembly of RETREETers gathered to listen. Hugs and handshakes were exchanged, and the group posed for a photo. It was a powerful scene that resonates to this day: people helping people in every direction.

For many, community is a source of true happiness. The feelings of satisfaction, contentment, and fulfillment that characterize happiness can be readily derived from affecting the lives of those around you in a positive way and being appreciated and loved for doing so. Everyone wants to belong and make an impact.

This is one of the greatest draws of online social networks, and explains the massive amount of time some people spend manicuring their personas. “Look at everything I am doing and how incredibly likeable I am!” Unfortunately, though we are more connected than ever, we are also more detached from the world around us. How many times have you looked around and noticed that you were the only person not using your phone? How long have you waited for a response from a digitally distracted companion? How, and where, can this be overcome?

RETREET is a place where people reconnect. Not just with those in our own community, but with others like us, those who need us, and the environment that surrounds us.

In the post-disaster landscape, people are motivated to act. A sense of need is felt. A moment to shine is presented. We yearn for a unique way to assist in relief efforts, the chance to join others in that pursuit, and the knowledge that our assistance is cherished by those we are helping. Harry’s encounter with that young family is a prime example of how RETREET creates community. One of many.

Planting in Evans, CO in May 2014

Planting in Evans, CO in May 2014

Communities obtain their identity, in large part, through the environments in which they exist. To their inhabitants, trees become important signifiers of what is known as home: the maple you climbed as a child, the apple you harvest in every summer, the oak you planted with your father when your daughter was born. When a disaster strikes and the environment is razed, one of the most important elements of the recovery process is the replacement of the urban forest. It helps the community return to a sense of normalcy and adds a healing layer of green to the traumatized landscape. By planting trees, we help communities reclaim their identity and give the inhabitants something positive to focus on when they step our of their front doors and encounter their new world. Victims of disaster are transformed into stewards of the land who are made responsible for recreating what they loved so they can pass it on the next generation.

The vision of RETREET is to create a society in which the need to replace lost trees in a manner sensitive to the local environment is considered part of the standard response to disaster, and is provided for alongside other relief initiatives.

Our mission is to build awareness of our vision by replanting trees in communities whose urban forests have been decimated in disaster by offering weekend community service adventures to active volunteers.

That being said, RETREET is not simply an idea—RETREET is a community comprised of those who share our vision and materialize to forward its achievement. Membership is open to all. Not only is our community the source from which we derive our strength as an organization, it is the focal point of our efforts. Every moment spent on RETREET is meant to amplify both the internal and external sense of community. That is why we plant trees one home at a time, ride bicycles through the affected area, and host events to which we invite those for whom we plant. Each is a way for RETREETers to connect with each other, and with the locals.

Over two years into this adventure, those who have chosen to be a part of our community have established a track record of which they can be proud. In concert, we have planted 3,253 trees in eight communities across North America. We have transformed numerous and diverse landscapes of tragedy and destruction into those of hope and recovery. If you have been watching from the sidelines and want to participate, now is the time to get in the game! Become an active part of redefining the global concept of natural disaster relief.

WE NEED YOU. Come on RETREET. Can’t make it? Help another RETREETer get there. Make a donation to our cause. Buy a RETREET shirt, wear it, and tell people our story when they ask about it. Find relevant events in your community and attend them on behalf of RETREET. Spread the word. Know of a community that could use our help? Initiate and organize your own RETREET. Share your time and talent by joining our board. Let us know how you can help. Need ideas, stickers, brochures, volunteers or a game plan? We’ll send them your way.

RETREET is the sum total of every experience that has been had during, in support of, or as a benefit of our efforts. When you talk to a friend about RETREET, you are RETREET. The future of our organization depends on you.

At the end of the day, it’s all about who shows up.