Northeast Tree Tenders gears up for spring planting

Hasan Malik started the Northeast Tree Tenders three years ago because he was tired of looking at all the bare concrete on the streets of Northeast Philadelphia.

Most of Philadelphia’ s full-grown trees were planted 60 to 70 years ago, said Malik, a Northeast native and Temple University student of civil engineering. And if they haven’t died yet, they are reaching the end of their lives and will have to be replaced soon.

The only problem is that no one is replacing them.

Since trees offer so many benefits to a community, like reducing pollution, raising commercial and private property values, improving health, reducing summer energy costs and preventing flooding, Malik said it was important to him to replace the dying trees.

Although there were other tree tender groups in the Northeast at the time, like Holmesburg Tree Tenders, and the Tacony Tree Tenders, these groups only covered a small area. Malik filled the void by starting a group that covered the entire Northeast.

Encompassing 11 zip codes, The Northeast Tree Tenders covers more area than any of the other 41 tree tender groups throughout Philadelphia.

The group has planted more than 300 trees since 2008. At this year’ s spring planting alone, the Tree Tenders planted 50 trees over seven different zip codes.

Since Malik founded the group, there have been seven tree plantings — one each fall and spring.

With each newly planted tree, Philadelphia is closer to reaching its goal of planting 300,000 trees by 2015 as part of its Greenworks Philadelphia sustainability plan, released in spring 2009, which aims at making Philadelphia the greenest city in America by 2015.

In fact, since fall 2008, tree tender groups throughout Philadelphia have planted an average of 2,000 trees each year, Malik said.

Trees are completely free to homeowners and organizations that apply, but they must be reserved about six months in advance. For example, if you want a tree for the fall planting in November, you must apply by May 15.

The trees and any needed concrete removal are free, and the tree tenders and volunteers do all of the planting, but homeowners are encouraged to give a $20 donation per tree to cover tree tender costs.

Grants from TreeVitalize, a public/private program to replace the tree canopy in Pennsylvania’ s metropolitan areas, pay for these services.

“It’ s basically tax dollars at work,” Malik said.

The Northeast Tree Tenders’ trees have a 90 percent survival rate.

Malik said most of the deaths were actually the result of vandalism, rather than improper planting and maintenance.

“I’ve seen branches torn off, trees broken in half,” Malik said. “ If you have 90 percent survive, you’ re actually doing pretty good.”

The reason for the Northeast Tree Tender’ s high success rate is the aftercare and maintenance the group does each summer, pruning and checking on all 300-plus past plantings.

Malik’ s strong leadership is also driving the success of the group.

Heidar Albandar, a Northeast Tree Tenders board member, joined the organization two years ago because he was impressed with Malik’ s leadership and the organization in general.

“I met Hasan and looked up the organization. I was impressed. They said they stood for something and they were actually doing it,” Albandar said. “ Hasan is a good organizer.”

“He’ s a very independent, take-charge type person,” said Sara Mohamed, a fellow Northeast Tree Tender member. “ I could definitely learn from that.”

Since its founding in 2008, the Northeast Tree Tenders has grown to include a 10-person board, and volunteers from as far as West Philadelphia and the outer suburbs are taking part in the organization, Albandar said.

Malik also has big plans for the group’ s future.

Right now, the group is working on obtaining 501(c)(3) nonprofit status.

“At that stage we can apply for all kinds of federal and state level grants,” Malik said.

The grants could then be used to fund a full-time staff and to create a green core program that hires high school students to take care of past-planted trees.

“This would not only create employment, but educate people about how to take care of trees,” Malik said. “ It would also create more jobs in the green industry.”

For now, the Northeast Tree Tenders is just looking for more people to get involved.

“We want everyone from the community,” said Northeast Tree Tenders board member Cindy Abdelaziz. “ I don’t live in Philadelphia, but I do care about our larger environment. And I think it’ s very important that everybody volunteers and is part of the group — all age groups, all people.”

“The more people that get involved the better,” Malik agreed. “It’s a worthwhile thing, and when you’ re done it’s a good feeling. It’s a feeling that brings you back for more.”

Northeast Tree Tenders is currently seeking volunteers for its May 21 planting sponsored by CSX freight company at the Daniel Boyle Memorial Recreation Center at Byberry and Stevens roads in Somerton. The group will be planting 62 trees.

Jennifer Klimowicz is a student working for Philadelphia Neighborhoods, the publication of Temple University’s Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab.

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