year 2, week 17:  this week i'm gonna... plant trees

Tornado damage in Rowlett, TX

Tornado damage in Rowlett, TX

The evening of December 26th, 2015, a massive EF4 tornado struck Rowlett, TX. It was 1 of 9 tornadoes that tore through the suburbs of Dallas that night. The path of destruction through Rowlett was 1/2 mile wide and 4 miles long, with 1,145 homes and business damaged, 23 people injured, and 1 life lost.

Grady McGahan, executive director of RETREET, immediately knew his organization would be heavily involved in the recovery process. Not only was Rowlett less than 15 miles from RETREET headquarters, McGahan and RETREET had spent the last five years perfecting their community recovery model. 

“Most people see a need for toiletries, blankets, and food, and all the help is geared toward getting the situation stabilized. And then the insurance company, the government, FEMA, and whoever else takes over reconstruction,” McGahan says. “There's no organization or agency that's looking at the loss of trees in a community and saying this is a really important part of what living in a neighborhood means."

RETREETers planting trees

RETREETers planting trees


McGahan explains that trees are not only ecologically necessary for carbon reduction, preventing soil erosion, reducing energy costs -- and in extreme cases, preventing mudslides -- but trees are also integral to a community’s sense of place.

“These places are trying to feel like home again, they're trying to restore some sense of normalcy, and that's impossible to do when you're living in a barren landscape,” McGahan says. "Whole neighborhoods (are) defined by these trees; a lot of people don’t get it until they're in a disaster situation.”

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RETREET was founded by a motivated group of arborists, cyclists, and project managers to provide disaster relief to stricken communities on a local, national, and international level by leading volunteers in restoring decimated urban forests. There is no other agency solely focused on this widely neglected issue, and most disaster victims do not have the time, money, and ability to replant their own lost trees.

RETREET's main planting events usually take place over a weekend. They host bicycle rides and throw community events, inviting all of the locals for whom they plant to join in the activities. The community events allow RETREETers to relax, get to know each other and the locals better, and celebrate the work they have done and the new skills they have gained.

RETREET also helps to educate the next generation of environmental stewards by speaking to kids of all ages about the importance of trees within their community. To learn more about RETREET, please watch the video below.

RETREETers on a bike tour of Dallas

RETREETers on a bike tour of Dallas

A year after the Rowlett tornado, RETREETers began to arrive in Dallas from as far away as California, New York, and Mexico City. It was time to put all of the RETREET planning into action. On day one, RETREETers delivered over 230 trees and mulch to home sites in Rowlett. They visited local farms and community gardens and also took a bicycle tour of Dallas. 

The next day, the mayor of Rowlett addressed the crowd of over 200 volunteers. 15 teams were formed, and each team was given a planting demonstration on the ground of the church. They were then sent to a list of homes and went to work. 245 trees (all 15-gallons in size) were planted at 134 locations in 5 hours. That evening, RETREETers gathered with locals for a celebration dinner.

The Rowlett RETREET planting group

The Rowlett RETREET planting group

A RETREET tree recipient said, For people to set aside their weekend to come help plant these wonderful trees is such a blessing to us! The trees are already putting out their green chutes and we couldn't be prouder having them!"

You can check out a local news feature on Rowlett and RETREET in the video below.

Notes for this week:

  • April 28th is Arbor Day!  Plant a tree!
  • RETREET plans to return to Rowlett this fall to plant 200 more trees for the residents rebuilding in the wake of the tornado. Our collective givetwig donation will sponsor ten 15-gallon (8-foot-tall) native trees for this project.
  • For more information regarding RETREET, please check out their website.

this week i'm gonna donate to RETREET.

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