East Falls Tree Tenders, a small organization with deep community roots

The presence of the East Falls Tree Tenders can be felt all over the community, as members have planted nearly 1,000 trees on streets, alleys and well-known public places in the neighborhood since 1995.

While the organization has enhanced the streets of East Falls, they pride themselves most on educating and engaging the younger people in the community. 

“We want trees on every street, but we also feel that the children of the community can end up becoming our ambassadors. They can help to pass along the message about the goodness that trees can bring to the community,” said Cynthia Kishinchand, the coordinator of the group.

One of the ways that the organization tries to educate the youth about the environment is through its annual Arbor Day celebration. Kishinchand organized the event for the first time in 1995 as a way to give back to the young people of East Falls and to help them develop an appreciation for nature. “I want children to be outdoors and have the same personal freedom that I had as a child,” Kishinchand said.

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On April 27, the EFTT will sponsor the 17th annual Arbor Day celebration at Inn Yard Park, located on the 4200-block of Ridge Avenue. A new playground was recently built at the park and was completed in December. Alice Reiff, the co-chair of the Arbor Day celebration and an EFTT volunteer for the past 17 years, said that during the construction of the new facilities, about 16 trees were removed to create a path to the new playground equipment. During this year’s celebration, the group will be replacing all of the trees that were lost during the playground’s creation, Reiff said.

The Arbor Day celebration, which will start at 10 a.m. this year, brings together East Falls residents and elected officials, but the focus of the event is on the children who attend the local schools. About 200 children from Wissahickon Charter School, St. Bridget’s School, Thomas Mifflin School and William Penn Charter School will attend the event, where they will show their appreciation for trees and Mother Nature by performing songs and reciting poetry with an environmental theme.

The learning continues for the children even after the day of the celebration. The EFTT has selected a different book about the environment each year for the past 15 years. With the monetary help of the East River Bank, each of the teachers at the Arbor Day celebration receives a copy of the book to share with the children in their classes. The East Falls branch of National Penn Bank provides money so that each child can also go home with their own plant to take care of. EFTT tries to stay involved in the local school children’s lives throughout the year by providing programs and trips to them with the help of grants from the Philadelphia Activities Fund, Kishinchand said.

While the focus of the Arbor Day celebration and the field trips is on elementary school children, the organization also likes to get local college students involved. Although the group only has about 12 active members, they receive a lot of help from volunteers at Philadelphia University. On April 21 the EFTT will host its annual spring tree planting with the assistance of up to 100 Philadelphia University students. They will start their day at the Falls Presbyterian Church, which has become both a meeting place for the organization and a spot to keep all of the equipment they need. Regardless of the weather, the volunteers will go out and plant 40 to 60 trees, which have all been freely provided to property owners by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s Tree Vitalize Program.

Not only does the organization do all of the work that is involved in planting the trees, but the members also educate the new tree owners about how to care for and water their tree properly. Kishinchand takes it upon herself to send a reminder to tree owners for the first two to three years to regularly water their tree. The organization also tries to make sure that the trees remain in healthy condition.

Sue Harrison, a volunteer with EFTT, said that it became apparent a few years ago that they weren’t able to keep track of all of the trees that they were planting. She created and currently maintains a database in order to make sure that all of the trees they plant stay in good condition and get repairs when they are needed, Harrison said. EFTT also tries to dispel the myths about trees harming water pipes and utility lines and educates the community about the benefits that trees give the community such as increasing property values and generating oxygen.

Jon Ristaino and Kailey Meitzler are students at Temple University. Philadelphia Neighborhoods, a NewsWorks content partner, is an initiative of the Temple Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab.

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