The summer of 1999 found the Ohio Valley under almost constant Ozone Alert, and in January 2000 a tornado hit destroying many trees. The AACS “Senior Service Corps” (Foster Grandparent Program, Retired & Senior Volunteer Program, Senior Companion Program) and the GRADD “Senior Connections” Americorps joined together to help in solving this problem by writing a grant to the National Tree Trust for 1,000 tree seedlings. This collaborative effort became known as the “Breathe Easy Corps.”
The Breathe Easy Corps project was created to address several serious social concerns. Senior Citizens within the Green River Area, who are an often untapped resource, have knowledgeable skills and abilities to assist in approving the environment. Older citizens need a sense of belonging and activities where they can use their abilities to improve communities. Programs are needed that encourage interaction between older adults and youth. Youth need to develop a sense of appreciation for their elders. Programs are needed that bring the youth and senior citizens together for social interaction.
The Breathe Easy Corps volunteers will plant and care for 1,000 seedlings within the seven Green River Area counties for a two-year period. After the two-year monitoring period, the trees will be direct planted at sites such as: schools, nursing homes, senior centers, churches, and senior housing complexes. Volunteers will care for the trees for two years, tracking their growth and survival rate.
Seedlings were provided by the National Tree Trust and arrived in late March 2000. The Kentucky Department of Forestry assisted with information regarding the type of trees received, helped with the planting of the seedlings in containers, and provides continuing guidance throughout this project.
Twenty-two adults and 35 youth from the school-based Alternative Learning Center of Ohio County spent one full day preparing the containers for the seedlings. The public school systems in the seven-county area were involved by taking trees to 30 different schools, where the students will care for them and eventually permanently plant them at those schools.
The 1,000 trees will provide approximately 143 trees per county. Each county has senior volunteers that will work with youth in maintaining the trees during a two-year reporting period required by the National Tree Trust. Containerized or direct planted trees were placed at 30 schools, three nursing homes, four senior centers, four senior housing complexes, four churches, and 10 senior volunteer homes within the seven counties.
At this time, there is a 72% survival rate (according to the National Tree Trust, the average survival rate for a project this size is 40 to 60%). Approximately 448 volunteers were involved (including youth, inmates, students, and senior volunteers). The total year-to-date number of volunteer hours donated for this project is 579.5 hours. Soon, everyone will be able to “Breathe Easy!”