You will not be surprised that Beyond School Bells, (BSB), a dedicated network of afterschool professionals, has been hard at work with their partners and communities to plant seeds, saplings, and trees in the name of hope.
On Arbor Day weekend, April 24-26, youth and their communities across Nebraska participated in a statewide Tree-A-Thon to plant and celebrate trees.
BSB kicked off the Tree-A-Thon alongside Arbor Day Foundation, Natural Resource Districts, Audubon Nebraska, Nebraska Forest Service, and The University of Nebraska. As with any major initiative, this project constituted more than just tree-planting; BSB and its partners had a larger mission in mind.
Ever since Nebraska received its unwelcome guest in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic, discouraging news has trailed close behind. To compound the virus, people worldwide have struggled with loneliness, unemployment, and stress that are far-reaching as the virus itself.
BSB and their partners could still see the forest from the trees, which they decided to plant on behalf of brighter times. Trees contribute to conservation efforts, beautify areas, mitigate heat and cooling costs, and above all, represent hope.
A tree symbolizes a new life that succeeds our current, uncertain existence. As we believe in a Nebraska that cultivates the good life for everyone, who better than BSB and their coalition to strive for this goal?
From there, the Natural Resources District and more than 20 Nebraskan community afterschool programs strategized and executed creative, safe ways to deliver seedlings and trees to our youth and families.
Throughout the Tree-A-Thon, we saw many examples of positive change enacted through community engagement. BSB’s partners, York Public Schools’ Afterschool Program, in conjunction with Upper Big Blue Natural Resources District, doled out 600 free Austrian pines for youth and families to plant.
BSB and its cohort, however, did not just spread trees throughout our state. The network used lively campaign hashtags including #TreeSelfie, #NETreeAThon, and #ArborDayatHome, coined by Arbor Day Foundation.
North Platte’s KIDS Klub, (pictured below) meanwhile, gave each family a sapling to plant, a goody bag, and a tree craft. KIDS Klub then encouraged families to send selfies to post to the North Platte Public Schools’ Facebook page.
The program also celebrated Afterschool Professionals week and invited employees to drive through and receive flowers and ice-cream gift cards.
Norfolk, Nebraska, (pictured below) with the support of Mayor Josh Moenning, Lower Elkhorn Natural Resources Department, Norfolk Public Schools, and Aftershock, their afterschool program, set out to plant 2,020 trees.
Austin Castleberry, Aftershock’s Program Director said, “Overall, I am incredibly grateful for all the support all parties have been for one another in seeing this project come to fruition. The real winners will be our young stewards who not only get to reap the benefits of the hands-on environmental learning opportunity but also will get to enjoy all the benefits these trees will produce as they mature and become part of our vibrant landscape.”
For families unable to obtain or plant trees, the Tree-A-Thon had a little something for them as well. Everyone, no matter what, was encouraged to celebrate the outdoors, go for nature walks, hug trees, and use the hashtags.
Beyond School Bells and some talented UNL Environmental Studies students in the Department of Forestry even created a Tree-A-Thon curriculum as part of their Virtual Backpack series, a weekly set of age-appropriate, engaging activities for kids. The Tree-A-Thon curriculum includes instructions to create a homemade birdfeeder. You may access the Tree-A-Thon curriculum here.
For anyone who thinks hope does not grow on trees, we must rethink that vision. Throughout these uncertain times, although we may not always be near our loved ones, we can climb, hug, appreciate, and plant one of the greatest gifts, so that the good life can and will again grow around us.
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