By Mike S Payton, Contributing Reporter
DELRAY BEACH, FLORIDA – Community Greening is an urban forestry non-profit, founded by Mark Cassini and Matt Shipley in 2016 with a mission to engage residents to improve the environment. Recently they have been awarded a city contract to start planting 10,000 trees, and won an ‘Impact 100 Palm Beach’ award, receiving a $100,000 grant.
Cassini explains Community Greening is a collective effort to improve the environment for people and nature. The organization promotes an engaged community creating sustainable greenspaces and a vibrant tree canopy to equitably strengthen our environment, economy, society, and health.
“Since 2016, Community Greening has planted more than 3,300 trees with 3,000 volunteers of all ages in parks, schools, residential yards, and vacant lots,” said Cassini. Adding that the organization was nominated by the Florida Forest Service and awarded the “Tree Advocacy Group of the Year” by the Florida Urban Forestry Council.
In 2019, the Greater Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce named them the “Non-Profit of the Year” as well. Cassini said, “Our most significant accomplishment has been engaging the community, getting children and families excited about trees, and partnering with city government, schools, family foundations, local businesses, and churches to get the job done!”
The award of the $100,000 from Impact 100 Palm Beach County will fund the ‘Community Tree Champion’, Dondre McCrary, to lead residential tree plantings and the Youth Tree Team. Also to travel to leading urban forestry and youth employment organizations in the country and purchase a vehicle with the towing capacity needed.
Cassini explained, “The Community Tree Champion will manage tree planting programs that provide free shade or fruit trees to residents of low-tree canopy neighborhoods in Delray Beach and Boynton Beach and lead the Youth Tree Team leadership program of local teens engaged in improving the community and environment while gaining job skills.”
The Youth Tree Team was the recipient of a Great Ideas Initiative grant from the Children’s Services Council for its investment in local youth by improving physical, behavioral and socio-emotional health; increasing career readiness; and increasing their connection and contribution to community and society.
It creates job pathways for youth to advance them in the green industry or in their chosen career. It also provides them an environmental education, connects them to nature and provides hourly wages. “The Youth Tree Team connects teens to nature, immerses them in teamwork in a professional work environment; and imparts life skills and job skills,” said Cassini.
The teens accompany Community Greening staff on tree maintenance at schools, public parks, green spaces and front yards. The teens attend city meetings, meet with professionals in the green industry, and learn about urban forestry.
Cassini explained, “the teens work from 8AM to 1PM Monday through Thursday in the summer. The team leader is paid $15/hour and the team members are paid $10/hour.”
As far as what’s next for Community Greening, Cassini said, “We are looking forward to kicking off the City of Delray Beach’s Tree Planting Program of 10,000 trees in the next five years.”
“Delray residents can expect 2,000 trees planted and given away in the next year,” he said. “This includes five tree giveaways, four park plantings, and five plantings at schools and churches.”
Adding, “We are hoping our partnership with the City of Delray Beach’s Parks and Recreation Department increases the tree canopy by 2,000 trees a year, [and] encourages neighboring municipalities to start their own campaigns.”