RETREET redefines disaster relief by engaging communities to replant lost trees.
OKC RETREET March 28+29, 2015
We held our first conversation about OKC RETREET eighteen months ago, after our partners at Texas A&M Forest Service suggested we reach out to Oklahoma Forestry Services to setup a planting in the wake of an EF5 tornado struck Moore on May 20, 2013. The devastation had made international news: 24 lives lost, 1,150 homes destroyed, 4,000 trees swept away, and an estimated $2 billion in total damages. RETREET was eager to help our neighbors and excited to work in a new state.
Moore needed some time to heal, so we decided to wait a year, until the next planting season. In Charlotte, North Carolina, at the 2014 Partners in Community Forestry Conference last November, our Executive Director sat down with representatives of Oklahoma Forestry Services and Arbor Day Foundation to discuss the need for trees in Moore. It was the start of an amazing partnership. Together, we decided that both OKC RETREET and Oklahoma Community Tree Recovery Campaign, a newly launched project of Arbor Day Foundation, would take place the closing weekend of Oklahoma Arbor Week. Our national partner ACTrees suggested we reach out to Tree Bank Foundation, well-respected local nonprofit organization that would be a great resource for both events.
With dates selected and a team of partners at hand, RETREET set out to raise funds for the event and collaborate with local organizations. Once again, ArborGen offered to provide $2,500 towards the purchase of trees, allowing us to offer larger specimens to each family. JCPenney sent $2,000 in support of general operations and The Home Depotapproved a grant request for $1,350 of supplies, including mulch, shovels, pruners, gloves, pickaxes, and coolers. Hampton Inn & Suites gave generously reduced rates to our RETREETers.
Enthusiasm for OKC RETREET at the local level was palpable. Numerous entities, including City of Moore and SERVE MOORE wanted to be involved, and a whole host of volunteers offered to come out to plant trees. At the beginning of March, notifications were sent to residents of Moore regarding the availability of trees and, within three weeks, 193 requests were received, 2.5 times the 80 requests we expected to be able to fulfill. OKIE was contacted two weeks before the plantings so that all utilities could be marked and a representative from Oklahoma Forestry Services and its partners visited with each recipient thereafter to ensure that every tree would be planted in the right place.
Two days before OKC RETREET was set to begin, another tornado hit Moore. Though much less powerful than the previous one, enough damage was done that relief efforts had to begin all over again. Trees and RETREETers were en route and everything was lined up for the weekend. It was up to the City of Moore to decide whether or not to proceed.
After serious consideration, and with teams of volunteers cleaning up debris in multiple neighborhoods, the locals resolved to see OKC RETREET come to fruition and not allow the new storm to postpone our plans. Recovery efforts from one tornado would occur alongside relief efforts from another. #MooreStrong!
On March 28, 2015, a beautiful Saturday afternoon, 22 RETREETers were joined by 50 local volunteers in Veterans' Memorial Park. After a short welcome from city representatives, a tree planting demonstration, and lunch provided by Moore Beautiful, the assembly broke into small groups and planted a total of 162 trees in Moore, an even mix of 15-gallon Shumard Oaks and 7-gallon Redbuds, Oklahoma's state tree. The locations included Veterans' Memorial Park, the Community Renewal Center, and 78 home sites. All plantings were completed within 7 hours; a truly inspirational effort. Volunteers converged on the Community Renewal Center for a delicious dinner following the planting, sponsored by Silver Star Construction and whipped up by RETREET's own Daniel Avazpour.
Several TV stations showed up to cover the event and, that evening, while RETREETers enjoyed the nightlife of Bricktown, our story ran on most major networks in OKC. Over the following two days, affiliate stations all over the country picked it up.
Sunday morning, RETREETers gathered at Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum. They were given a personal tour of the grounds by Oklahoma Forestry Services and then taken through the museum. After that sobering experience, the group went for a bike ride along the Oklahoma River and on some of its great bike paths. It was a perfect ending to a fulfilling and fantastic weekend.
RETREET would like to thank everyone who was involved with OKC RETREET in any way. We look forward to our next outing in the area and hope to return this fall. To help us plant more trees in Moore, consider SPROUTING A TREE!